‘Salt-N-Pepa’ biopic covers highs, lows of musical duo

Rick's Reviews

Lifetime movie “Salt-N-Pepa” examines the life of iconic Hip Hop artists. (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

(KGET) — It’s not unusual for people to remember the best things about their lives and gloss over the worst when faced with a nostalgic moment. No one really knows how much revisionist history is going on unless the person – or persons – doing the recall is famous.

Take for example the iconic musical act of Salt-N-Pepa. Their long career in music has been well documented so any major variations on reflecting on their past would be noted. They knew that when they started work on the Lifetime movie “Salt-N-Pepa” that will debut at 8 p.m. Jan. 23 on the cable channel.

Cheryl “Salt” James explains how there were both legal limitations on how honest the story could be along with simple time constraints.

“It’s hard to put 35 years into a 2 ½ hour film,” James says. “There was so many things that we wanted to do and wanted to say that we weren’t able to.

“So, for me and Pep, I don’t think there was anything we didn’t want to say. I feel like we have more to say, (we) definitely had a lot of anxiety doing it. Because you do have to revisit old wounds, it opens up old wounds and questions that you have about things that you experienced. So, I definitely had a hard time pushing through it.”

The film details the journey of Queensborough Community College students Cheryl “Salt” James (played by GG Townson) and Sandra “Pepa” Denton (played by Laila Odom) as they enter the world of rap and hip hop. It shows how Salt-N-Pepa made a huge impact as one of the first all-female rap groups, changing the look of hip hop and being unafraid to talk about sex and share their thoughts on men.

It features performances of Salt-N-Pepa’s greatest hits, including: “Let’s Talk About Sex”, “What a Man”, “Shoop” and “Push It”.

Denton describes the film as a very honest portrayal of two friends who went through a host of ups and downs. In the process of getting the movie made, the pair did not shy away from those downs.

“It’s something to have a biopic of your life story especially for us with the journey and being in such a male dominated field and so many barriers that we broke down,” Denton says. “It was a long journey and it was some ups and downs.

“I remember watching Tina Turner (biopic). To end her story on stage. And I was like man, if I ever do a movie I want to be just like that. I want to enter my stage. I want to be doing my show when I’m doing my thing and it celebrated – my work, my legacy. I’m seeing it come to pass. I’m living it.”

Tanya Lopez, Executive Vice President of Scripted Programming, Lifetime, called Salt-N-Pepa incredibly courageous when it came to seeing their lives examined.

“They were open books, and I think that’s what made the movie, and has made the movie so incredibly authentic,” Lopez says. “They want the audience to know that two women going into business together starting so young is a rollercoaster ride.

“And I just will always applaud the fact that they went into it with their eyes opened with courage and transparency.”

The task of telling the story fell to Townson and Odom. Preparations to capture the essences of the performers started with the actors looking at music videos and interviews. Townson found the old interviews to a major help because it allowed to see Salt when she wasn’t performing in front of an audience. She was able to take pieces from every interview she watched to put together her performance.

That archival research was followed by a musical form of boot camp where they learned how to rap and dance like the original Salt-N-Pepa. There are times in the movie when Townson and Odom are actually doing their own rapping.

Odom found Denton’s book Let’s Talk About Pepa to be the best source of understanding the person she was playing. She and Townson both got to sit down with the real Hip Hop artists to get final details.

“It all kind of like became this place for us to pull from and understand her better and really tap into who she was and remember we’re playing them for a span of time,” Odom says. “They are not the same people, like none of us are the same people from five months ago or five years ago, so I had to think about how would an 18-year-old, 19-year-old be.

“So it was a lot of work, but definitely best work I’ve ever done.”

The film will be followed by the “Salt-N-Pepa Interview Special” at 11 p.m. Jan. 23. The reigning Queens of Hip Hop sit down for a discussion about what makes their iconic partnership work and how their pioneering style continues to influence the music world today. The special will be hosted by Loni Love.

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