Salt-N-Pepa’s chemistry has always been about cool contrast. The first ladies of hip-hop, whose real names are Cheryl James and Sandra Denton, are, as their names suggest, very different personalities, from their rhymes to their personal styles. When the ladies came together, along with DJ Spinderella, back in the late ’80s in New York, they grabbed the music world’s attention with bodacious dance jams and a vibrant stage presence, scoring hits throughout the ’90s and beyond, winning awards and later making a presence for themselves in videos and on TV. Their impact has not been forgotten, either. The duo broke down the walls that allowed Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and the like to flourish today.
In case anyone might have forgotten this fact, S-n-P have some big projects in 2020 that should provide reminders. First, they just released a new makeup collection. Available at Ulta Beauty and online, the collaboration with Milani Cosmetics includes lip kits and eye shadow palettes repping the rappers’ personal flair. It’s all packaged with retro sass, featuring photos of the gals from back in the day, rocking their signature bright tunics and gold hoops and chains. They say their stamp on the products goes beyond the packaging, too.
“I shut the lab down, ” says Pepa excitedly, at a recent press event at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. “I went there hands on and I was in there, because colors are very important. I know what I like to wear… your face is like a canvas, and I was so happy to be able to play with all of the different colors.”
Pointing to the shimmering shadow package that bears her likeness, Pep tells us, “Everyone of those colors I support,” adding, “you could definitely find a day time and a night time look here, and shades to match with any outfit.”
Pepa was always the chattier, wilder one; at the event the star — who looks younger than ever — wore bold red lipstick, smokey shadow and glam lashes. Salt had a more neutral look, donning polished and pretty nude and brown shades as she spoke of the duo’s business outlook and relationship.
“I think that opposites attract and we were friends before we were in music,” Salt shared of the longtime partnership. “Being female artists in a male-dominated industry and also being friends and business partners, challenges come along but we balance each other out… that is what the line represents — the yin and the yang in us all.”
Salt added that the pair’s journey will be explored in a new Lifetime biopic covering “the Salt n Pepa life story” to be broadcast this Memorial weekend. The dramatization was executive produced by the two women, and she promises “at least one new song to go with the movie.”
The pair are clearly not slowing down anytime soon. Both mothers in their mid-50s, they are part of an inspiring crop of pop and hip hop artists in this age range still out there making their voices heard and looking good while doing so. From Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah, to Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani right behind them, older women in music today are defying ideas about what is sexy and how women in their 40s and 50s should look. This includes how they wear makeup.
“I don’t care about age, it’s nothing but a number,” insists Pepa. “That’s what I love about the collection. You have more dramatic colors and then you have more subtle colors. I can do both. That’s what’s great about the Salt and Pepa Milani package — it’s just like everybody can get down with the palettes. It’s also just knowing how to apply, you know if you’re going heavy on your eyes and then you will do a softer lip to balance it out.”
Salt agrees, offering a tip seasoned cosmetics fans probably know well. “For me to the age question, I think heavy powders and powdery looks can get cakey in areas where they shouldn’t be…. It’s up to the person, but for me I think as you age you should keep looking to smooth those moments out and that’s the concealer, and translucent light powder maybe instead of a heavy powder.”
(Video Flashback- Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” circa 1994)
In terms of longevity, the ladies have played the game well, with steady appearances on reality TV over the last couple decades — from Pep’s early days on VH1’s The Surreal Life to more recently, appearances on the BET show Ladies’ Night, which chronicled their lives on the nostalgia tour circuit, and their subsequent break-up with DJ Spinderella. They won’t talk about the former third member in interviews, but the two were a music act before bringing her into the fray, and to their credit, they kept it pretty real sharing their perspectives on the group’s dynamics for all to see, on the show. Pepa is also a presence on WeTV’s Growing Up Hip Hop starring her daughter Egypt Criss (with her ex-husband Naughty By Nature’s Treach). But this kind of visibility — for the rap community and especially women — was not always available.
“We boycotted the Grammys when they were not televised,” remembers Pepa of the early years fighting for hip-hop and their role in it. “That was a big thing because we were getting nominated and we were winning, but no one was seeing us. When we won our first Grammy it was televised and we got that voice because we took a stand.”
“We have been in the business 35 years so we’ve seen it all, from all the styles of the ’80s and ’90s that are coming back, and things that we have influenced in music and fashion,” Pepa adds, “like ripped jeans and lots of bling. I think at the time that’s what set us apart and what made us unique.”
It’s nice to see strong women with musical talent taking a Kardashian-like approach to branding via reality TV and cosmetics, especially legends such as these two who did a lot of it first. Their colorful look and bold sounds clearly continue to inspire. “I think that people are more accepting of those of us that have been in the business a long time now,” Salt says as the interview wraps. “Yeah, it’s male-dominated, but after our rise, [there are] all these other big female artists and all of these different voices getting heard now.”