'Salt-N-Pepa' – Queens girls become hip hop queens in Lifetime biopic
Cheryl James was quiet and reserved while Sandra Denton was loud and extroverted. But together, they made beautiful music as Salt-N-Pepa, the subject of a biopic and documentary upcoming on Lifetime.
Premiering Saturday, Jan. 23, the two-hour drama titled “Salt-N-Pepa” stars G.G. Townson (“In the Cut”) and Laila Odom (“Undercover Brother 2”) as James (aka Salt) and Denton (Pepa), nursing students at New York’s Queensborough Community College in the early ’80s, who met in the lunchroom at Sears and wound up falling into the world of hip hop after recording for a friend’s school project.
Joined by Deirdra “DJ Spinderella” Roper (Monique Paul, “The Next Step”), they’d go on to become the first female rap act to go platinum and rack up multiple Grammy Awards with hits such as “Push It,” “None of Your Business” and “Let’s Talk About Sex,” ultimately paving the way for female rappers to follow.
The real James and Denton served as executive producers on the film (along with Jesse Collins, Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere) and Denton says she felt the group’s story of success, failure and perseverance needed to be told.
“It was something that was very dear to me, as Salt would say,” Denton says. “It was just dear to me …. And I remember seeing Tina Turner and seeing her movie and I’m always like, ‘Oh, I want that. I want to be alive. I want to see my story (while I’m alive).’ … And it was an amazing story because we were two women from Queens with a lot against us and a lot for us, and showing just how to keep pushing it, no pun intended, and that’s what we did.”
A surreal moment for Denton came during the filming of the scene when she and James first met in the lunchroom at Sears when Denton was applying for a job there, a performance for which Denton has praise for Odom.
“Hats off to Laila,” she says, “because she nailed it for me because she captured that very New York flavor. I was involved with the audition. I met her, I was there on set. That was very important for me because I came and I was happy I found someone that could really bring me, to watch me and to tell a story.”
As for Odom, she recalls Denton giving her valuable advice while filming a scene involving a young actor who was playing Denton’s son.
“I remember I tried to pick him up and he was like very resistant, like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘OK, well.’ (I) backed away,” Odom recalls. “… And Sandy came over to me and she was like, ‘That’s your son. You can’t just walk away. You can’t do that.’
“And that’s when I had to commit,” she continues, “I had to do a different level of work to connect to the young actor that was playing my son. And by the end of his time, in one of our very last scenes, he was like, ‘Bye, Mommy.’ And it just touched my heart … . I think her saying that to me and her coming to me and telling me that was so important.”
Immediately following is the hourlong documentary “Let’s Talk About Salt-N-Pepa,” in which host Loni Love interviews James and Denton about what makes their iconic partnership work and how their pioneering style continues to influence the music world.