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Salt-N-Pepa enter Long Island Music Hall of Fame

Salt-N-Pepa are being inducted into the Long Island

Salt-N-Pepa are being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 18, 2012. Credit: Handout

Salt-N-Pepa have gotten used to fans telling them how their music has shaped people's lives.

"We hear that constantly," says Cheryl "Salt" James-Wray, the Brooklyn native who has lived in Melville for the past two decades. "It's very flattering. We've even made it part of our show. When we're on stage, we ask how many people did 'Whatta Man' or 'Shoop' in their high school talent show, and so many people raise their hands. They identify with us -- the regular, fun girls having a good time."

What Salt-N-Pepa haven't gotten used to, though, is music industry acknowledgment of their successes -- all five of their albums have gone at least gold, including "Very Necessary," which is certified platinum five times, three No. 1 rap singles, three MTV Video Music Awards and a Grammy for best rap group performance in 1994. That's why members of the group, which also includes DJ Spinderella, say their induction into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame Oct. 18 at the Paramount in Huntington is so important to them, especially as they continue to work on rebuilding the group together.

"It's an all-around great feeling," says Sandra "Pepa" Denton, the Jamaica native who now lives in New Jersey. "It's great to be told that we're still relevant. We've been in the game for so long, it's great to be honored for our contributions to the game of hip-hop and be told that we're not forgotten about, that our music is timeless."

Their music holds up

Like so many acts from the early days of hip-hop, Salt-N-Pepa are particularly proud of their music's standing the test of time, since so many criticized hip-hop as a fad when they were starting out. Of course, "Push It" and "Shoop" are still hip-hop radio classics, while "Whatta Man" was just covered in its entirety by Ellen DeGeneres and "Pitch Perfect" star Rebel Wilson on DeGeneres' talk show earlier this month.

For Salt, though, it was the first single from their 1990 album, "Blacks' Magic," that stands out as a turning point in the group's career.

"'Expression' is a song that I wrote and produced and it was a platinum single," she says. "I remember that making me feel really good as an artist because it meant I could put a record together that would be a platinum single and as a female, because most guys are producers."

It also signaled a change in how the group approached music and how Salt-N-Pepa wanted to use their success for something more than party-starting. "You don't want to make a song sound preachy and corny," she says. "It's a challenge to say something significant and make the record still enjoyable. It became more important to me to not just make you 'shake your thang,' but make you think and affect your life in a positive way through music and lyrics."

Pepa points to their hit "Let's Talk About Sex," also from "Blacks' Magic," as another significant moment for the group. "We wanted to find a balance," she says. "I'm not a role model and things get tricky with that, but we did feel a sense of responsibility. It was a dream come true being the only females out there really making noise. We were very boisterous and we said what we wanted."

They were brutally honest

Salt-N-Pepa were able to open a discussion about sex that was honest, but not judgmental, while still keeping the song danceable. (It became a Top 10 dance hit, as well as a Top 20 pop hit.) They then expanded the song by changing it to "Let's Talk About AIDS," which outlined the importance of safe sex. "We were trying to address a serious problem," says Pepa, who worked with Lifebeat, headlining numerous fundraisers for the HIV/AIDS awareness-raising group, including the first Urban Aid at Madison Square Garden in 1995. "I'm still involved with that."

It's no surprise that the group's interest in open discussions even extends to its own breakup in 2002 and reunion in 2007.

"All that glitters is not gold," Salt says. "I know we may have seemed to be on top of the world ... but it takes a toll on you. In this business, you're constantly in demand and nobody really cares about you. You're just a product."

Salt says the stresses lead many musicians to struggle with drugs or low self-esteem. "I was bulimic and after years of trying to control it, I had to stop for my health, my physical health and mental health," she says. "I gave up something to gain something. I gave up to have a real life."

Her life became centered on her family, raising her son and daughter in Melville. (She laughs off any criticism about moving to Long Island's hurting her hip-hop credibility, saying, "I'm not trying to stay 'street.' I'm trying to be a good wife and raise my children well. We're adults.")

"When I got my sea legs back and I was strong enough to deal, I came back," she says. "I took baby steps. But I did what I wanted to do instead of feeling I had to do everything for everybody. I don't regret it. A lot of people don't understand, and I was surprised. Fans were mad, they thought I was selfish. I was thinking it was an honorable thing to do and thought people would commend me and it was the opposite reaction, even though I thought I was doing something good. It was like, 'You belong to us! You stay out there! You make music and you do concerts! You give us what we want!' It's all good. I love my fans and I love that they love me like that, that they feel we've affected their lives in a positive way."



LI Music Hall of Fame: Class of 2012



The Long Island Music Hall of Fame's 2012 class of inductees may be its most eclectic slate yet. In addition to Salt-N-Pepa, here's a look at who will be honored Oct. 18:

RON ALEXENBURG The record executive who signed The Jacksons to Epic Records and used to entertain Michael Jackson at his family's Westbury home also worked on the careers of countless superstars, including Boston and Meat Loaf. Now running his own labels, he lives in Port Jefferson Station.

BARNABY BYE The '70s rockers were a supergroup of sorts -- the Alessi Brothers, the Blues Magoos' Peppi Castro and The Illusion's Mike Riciardella -- created to give their own twist on Britpop with a string of albums, including the 1973 record "Room to Grow."

JOE BUTLER AND STEVE BOONE The Long Island half of The Lovin' Spoonful, which helped provide the American answer to The British Invasion with hits like "Do You Believe in Magic," "Daydream" and the No. 1 "Summer in the City."

CSS SECURITY INC. Founder Ira Maltz launched the company in 1975 to handle security at the Calderone Concert Hall in Hempstead and has covered shows from the Rolling Stones to Billy Joel and Paul McCartney, as well as venues including Nassau Coliseum, Jones Beach Theater and Brookhaven Amphitheater.

TAYLOR DAYNE The Baldwin native is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her Top 10 debut "Tell It to My Heart" and a career that has taken her to No. 1 with "Love Will Lead You Back," numerous reality shows, musical theater and her own jewelry line. Her single "Floor on Fire" reached the dance chart Top 10 last year.

ERVIN DRAKE He's the longtime Great Neck songwriter behind classics like Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" and Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache," as well as the Broadway musical "What Makes Sammy Run?"

ELLIE GREENWICH She's the Brooklyn native and Hofstra graduate behind 25 gold and platinum records, including "Be My Baby," "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Leader of the Pack," which also became the title of the Broadway musical based on her life and work.

JONES BEACH THEATER The Wantagh amphitheater, now known as Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, is celebrating its 60th anniversary as part of Jones Beach State Park, built to the specifications of planner Robert Moses himself. The venue has hosted everyone from Guy Lombardo to David Bowie to Florence + The Machine and Peter Gabriel this past summer.

LEO KRAFT The Brooklyn-born classical composer and past president of the American Music Center is professor emeritus of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in Flushing. His "Symphony in One Movement" was performed in Carnegie Hall in 1995 by the American Composers Orchestra.

CONNIE STEVENS The Brooklyn-born actress, best known for roles in movies like "Rock-a-Bye Baby" (opposite Jerry Lewis) and the TV series "Hawaiian Eye," also was an accomplished singer who landed the Top 10 hits "Kookie Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" in 1959 and "Sixteen Reasons" in 1960.

SUFFOCATION The Long Island death metal pioneers in the '90s, with their breakthrough debut "Effigy of the Forgotten," are working on a new album, "The Pinnacle of Bedlam," expected to be released early next year on Nuclear Blast Records.

THE THUNDER BIRD SISTERS and THE DRUM CIRCLE Musicians from the Shinnecock Nation have received awards from the Native American Music Association and have performed with Bonnie Raitt and in venues across the country, including Carnegie Hall.

WALK-FM The Patchogue radio station celebrated its 60th anniversary this year and a history that includes a nomination for adult-contemporary station of the year from Radio and Records magazine in 2007. Part of Clear Channel Communications, WALK's format shifted toward current adult-contemporary songs this year.

RANDY WESTON The Brooklyn jazz pianist has filled his playing with influences from his travels to Africa and the Caribbean, bringing him a wide range of honors making him an NEA Jazz Master, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship winner, and Chevalier in France's Order of Arts and Letters.

WHODINI The Brooklyn rap group that broke through with 1984's "Friends/Five Minutes of Funk," a Top 5 R&B hit, became a platinum-selling artist and one of the first hip-hop groups to be embraced by radio.

ZEBRA The hard-rock band that split its early days between New Orleans and Long Island, led by guitar virtuoso Randy Jackson, broke through with the Top 10 rock single "Who's Behind the Door," which helped push its eponymous debut into the Top 30.


WHAT The Long Island Music Hall of Fame's Fourth Induction Gala

WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Oct. 18, the Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington

INFO $50-$75; 631-331-0808,

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