Get ready to push it...push it real good!
The long-awaited Salt-N-Pepa biopic is finally here. Directed by Mario Van Peebles, the story explores the life and times, often blessed and yet also somewhat tragic, of Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton, the first platinum-selling female hip-hop act in history. The film coming to Lifetime Network on Saturday (Jan. 23) will take you on a nostalgic ride of an emotional roller coaster of two women who started out as strangers and ended up as close as sisters.
The hip-hop girl group was formed in 1985 with DJ Spinderella joining soon after. Their classic hits include “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “What A Man,” “Shoop” and their 1987 mega -charting single, “Push It,” which put the pioneering duo on the map leading them to become some of the most recognized women in music.
“[It is] mostly a story of success of pushing through, regardless of the circumstance and still maintaining the status of the iconic brand,” said James.
And when it comes to the recent flush of millennial female artists making their way onto the hip-hop scene, the pair says the secret formula for success includes longevity, commitment and originality.
“Salt-N-Pepa brought something different to the table. We were unique and had our own sound. So I would definitely say, don’t be a cookie-cutter copy of anyone else,” James adds. “Be original and you will be able to last in this business.”
GG Townson (playing Cheryl “Salt’ James) and Laila Odom (playing Sandy “Pepa” Denton) are the actresses chosen to embody the iconic group in the biopic. The two sat down with BET.com to chat about how they prepared for their performances, the differences in hip-hop today and how rocking a 90s style in the film brought them back to better days.
BET.com: GG, Salt-N-Pepa had a major role in the biopic as executive producers. What was it like working with these pioneering women in hip-hop and rap on this project?
GG Townson: Working with Cheryl and Sandy was an amazing experience. Not only to have been handpicked by them but for them to have been as present and as involved in the project. A lot of biopics have been made without the authorization of the people whom the story is about, so it was just amazing to not only have the support but the inside track in knowing that we’re actually telling the real story in its authenticity without getting backlash on its validity. Who better to help with a project about their lives than the source?
BET.com: Laila, why do you think it is important NOW to tell the story of Salt-N-Pepa when hip hop for women is different than what it was in the 90s?
Laila Odom: That’s a great question. I think that it’s really important. We’re talking about 35 years ago when these ladies came together and formed a group that they weren’t even trying to do, it just happened. Like ‘Oh do you rap? Do you beatbox? Let’s get this group going.’ I think right now we have Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj, we have all these different female emcees. But the thing about it is we have to pay homage to the women that opened the door to talk about “WAP” and to talk about everything else … and that’s Salt-N-Pepa.
BET.com: GG, after taking on the character as Cheryl “Salt” James, is there anything that you took away from her life experience that you can see mirroring in your own life?
GG: The way that Cheryl approaches situations especially in one scene in particular and then we actually spoke about how that scene escalated further than what you see in the film. Jokingly, but dead serious, I said, ‘Yo, you’re a better person than me, because I would have had the cops called on me at that moment.’ Hearing her stories and what she went through and just how she just maintained her grace and never was too far out of our element was definitely something that I try to maintain in my everyday life. I took a lot away from our relationship.
BET.com: In what ways are you and Cheryl alike?
GG: We are alike from the standpoint that Cheryl is very chill and laid back. Our essences are very similar in that way.
BET.com: Laila, how are you and Sandy alike?
Laila: The thing about me and Pep, we already share a lot of similarities. That’s why I feel like casting got the right two girls for these roles. Pep is fearless and way before this film, I have a tattoo that says “fearless.” It’s something that I live by -- going after something and not stopping until you achieve it. That’s how I kind of look at everything and that’s something that I’ll take with me from this project moving forward. To just attack the things you really want in life because it won’t just be given to you; you have to work for it.
BET.com: The Salt-N-Pepa biopic truly takes us on a journey from decade to decade. What was it like wearing different kinds of fashion and hairstyles from back in the day?
GG: That experience was dope. I’m not even gonna lie. When I first got the job I was like, ‘Wow, they really think I look like her.’ And then once I got into everything, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. Now I see it,’ even with the side-by-side comparisons. Being able to go from 18 to women with kids, I’m like ‘Dang, a baby does look good on me. A husband does look good on me. Maybe I should do this.’ It was nice looking into my future.
Laila: When it comes to fashion, the Eight Ball jacket. That was it! If you had an Eight Ball jacket, you were that person. And even down to the hairstyles, how the hairstyles come about. It’s a good time.
Salt-N-Pepa premieres on Saturday, January 23 at 8 pm/7c, immediately followed by the “Let’s Talk About Salt-N- Pepa Documentary” at 11 pm/10c.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.