Blazing trails for women in hip-hop back in the ’80s and throughout the past few decades, Salt-N-Pepa paved the way for the likes of Missy Elliot, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B to not only have careers, but to do it their way, speaking their own damn minds via unapologetic raps about sex, relationships, and life in the public eye.
As we learn in the new Lifetime biopic, Salt-N-Pepa, which debuted last weekend and repeats this weekend, it didn’t start out that way, though. Kurby Azor -Salt (aka real name Cheryl James)’s boyfriend- was the mastermind behind the group in the beginning and he wrote their first hits, including the iconic jam, “Push It.” Forging their own path would take a romantic and professional breakup plus a court case as well as some personal challenges as they grappled with the pressures of success and tests of their friendship along the way.
The film has generated excitement among music fans who might not typically call themselves Lifetime viewers, thanks to some snazzy direction by Mario Van Peeples and the input of Salt and Pepa (Sandra Denton) themselves as executive producers, alongside Queen Latifah. But the giddy period drama also brings feminist vibes in full effect due to strong performances by the young women in the lead roles.
Actress G.G. Townson is particularly good as Salt, and not only because she’s a dead ringer for the rapper. The native Angeleno, who grew up in the Valley Park-Windsor Hills area, had her own experience to pull from when it came to life in the music world.
“Music is in my blood! Of course, I knew who Salt-N-Pepa were, but I was so young when they came out,” Townson, whose grandfather Ron Townson was in the soul group The Fifth Dimension, tells L.A. Weekly. “I didn’t grow up listening to their music. Once I got older, I rediscovered them and the important impact they made on music and culture as women MC’s.”
Townson’s portrayal of James evokes the strength and business-minded focus of her character. Pepa brought the spice, while Salt was more chill, avoiding the party life that her music partner enjoyed. But she could be audacious lyrically and on stage when she wanted to be, and she always seemed to be having just as much fun on stage, which comes through in the movie. Townson says capturing her essence was a joy.
“My favorite part about being part of this process was getting to know Salt-N-Pepa as Cheryl and Sandy,” she says. “To have them there with us on set was such a great experience. I’m proud to have the honor of bringing Cheryl’s story to life.”
Though Salt-N-Pepa grew apart later in their career and broke up for a while, they did come back together when Vh1 honored their influence and body of work for a major televised event, solidifying their place as music legends, which is dynamically depicted in the movie.
“I believe the group’s success is attributed to them being females coming into a male-dominated game and that not only being a new thing for the masses, but [having] bars and catchy songs,” the actress (who can also be seen in The CW’s All American) says of the duo. “I think the movie shows the group’s magic by showing the sides of their lives that were not glamorous, yet they still kept pushing.”
Read our interview with Salt-N-Pepa themselves from last year, talking about their just launched makeup line and the biopic here.
The Salt-N- Pepa movie re-airs Thurs., Jan. 28, 8 p.m, Sat. Jan. 31, 6 p.m and Sun. Feb. 7, 2 p.m. on Lifetime and can be viewed anytime on Lifetime app.