Legendary hip hop group Salt-N-Pepa built a career on girl power while not just navigating, but rising to the top of a male-dominated industry. The original first ladies of hip-hop—Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper)—watched and learned the game and then mastered it.
A new “Salt-N-Pepa” biopic not only shows how the group took control of their careers and lives but is also empowering a new generation of women to do the same.
The film follows the first two decades of the group’s history-making career, recreating some of their most iconic moments from the ’80s and ’90s as they became the first female rap act to win a Grammy while helping to create space for new generations of women.
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“It was definitely a confidence-booster,” said GG Townson, who plays Salt in the Lifetime film. James and Denton handpicked her and Laila Odom (Pepa) of “The Bobby DeBarge Story,” to play their iconic roles.
“It was all love and support,” Townson said. “It’s like I got an opportunity to borrow a DeLorean for a second and go back in time.” Though, she revealed, she thought she almost lost her breakout role after messing up the words to the group’s hit single, “Shoop.”
But, James and Denton saw something in her and cast her anyway. Townson, who of course can now recite the lyrics in her sleep, said she was able to find her voice in Salt’s story through one-on-one time with the icon.
“I didn’t just have her there in support of me from the movie’s standpoint,” she said. “Cheryl was interested in what was going on in my life. We sat and had conversations about what was going on in my world.”
That connection, Townson said, helped her become not just Salt, the rapper, but Cheryl, the person. “I was learning who she was as a person and learning what she was thinking and how she was feeling through all these real experiences. I didn’t expect to have a lasting relationship. I thought that maybe after it’s done, we would part ways, but it’s just a blessing to say that we still have a relationship even after the fact.”
The feel-good set and film was also life-changing for the actress, who just scored a recurring role on season three of the CW drama, “All American.” Here, Townson shares five lessons she learned while throwing it back for the culture.
Never Stop Pushing Forward
“Watching the surface of the things that [Salt-N-Pepa] accomplished is one thing. But then reading the script and understanding all the things that they went through while doing all of that is something else,” said Townson. “Like, ‘you dealt with it the way that you dealt with it, but you still kept pushing,’ as Cheryl likes to say. Some of the things that she was telling me, I was like, ‘I don’t know how you kept pushing, because I would have stopped.’ Specifically, with the dynamics between her and [producer boyfriend] Herbie, the mission was greater than just whatever they had going on.”
Go With The Flow
“My biggest takeaway from working with [director] Mario Van Peebles is when you are on set and you’re getting ready to shoot a scene…be flexible to change. Don’t be married to the material because if, at any moment, the director is not feeling it, you need to always have a backup, have something else in the kitchen.”
Give It Your All
“One of my favorite moments was shooting the “Push It” scene,” sharedTownson. “As we’re preparing for it, our choreographer is on stage with us and we’re just like, ‘Oh my God. we’re really about to do this.’ We’ve been working all these weeks. We’re about to put it up on its feet. Everybody is expecting, you know, perfection and we were expecting perfection out of ourselves. And I tell you, we left it on the floor! You would have thought Debbie Allen was in the corner and this was a scene from ‘Fame.’ We paid it! When I tell you the crew and the background actors went crazy like we just put on a legit concert. That was just a gratifying moment to have that reaction there.”
Short Cuts Will Always Be A Classic
“The looks and the hairstyles were so dope. I fell in love with a fingerwave. It was so bomb! The way that our key hairstylist Tony would throw my wrap lotion on and the little sheets and sit me under the dryer everyday, I loved it. It took me back [as a little girl] when Saturdays, every other Saturday, you’re in the hair shop, getting your hair done. That’s what it pulled me back to. And I was like, ‘Oh, I remember this, this is familiar.’”
What Is Meant For You Is Meant For You
“As a person, an artist, an actor, just knowing that I am enough and believing that I am enough and whatever it is that I set out to do, what’s for me is for me. And it will be for me, I can’t do anything to mess that up. And I say that so heavily now because, with this role, my first audition, I went in and messed up my rap. And I walked out of the room and I was like, ‘Well, they’re not giving me a call back.’ But at the end of the day, what’s for you is for you, you know? And, and even if you mess up, the person that is supposed to see what they need to see in you, will.”
Stephenetta Harmon is a Black beauty editor, curator, and digital media and communications expert who builds platforms to celebrate the power, impact, and business of Black beauty. She is the former EIC for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (2018-19) and current host of MSR Forefront, a digital roundtable series. She is the founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide, the premier directory dedicated to Black-owned hair and beauty businesses. Find her at stephenetta.com.