Why Salt-N-Pepa were 20 years ahead of their time

Salt-N-Pepa onstage back in 1995.

Salt-N-Pepa onstage back in 1995. Photo: Getty

It's been twenty years since Salt-N-Pepa (Cheryl James, Sandra Denton and Deidra Roper) won a Grammy for seminal drunkenly-grind-up-against-your-love-interest anthem, 'None Of Your Business'. And while the true meaning of some SNP tracks remain vague (did we ever agree on what 'Shoop' was?), the essence of their other songs, including 'None Of Your Business', have aged far more like a good wine than the alcopop that got you on the dance floor in the first place. Check it:

'None Of Your Business' is a fist-pumping, anti slut-shaming anthem a solid decade before the term was ever used in the mainstream. It is a war cry for women against the people and institutions that judge them for having sex, enjoying sex or expressing their sexuality with an I-do-not-give-a-shit attitude that is as infectious as its bass line.

"How many rules am I to break before you understand / That your double standards don't mean shit to me?", SNP ask listeners, before telling the haters, "Can't do nothin', girl, without somebody buggin' / I used to think that it was me, but now I see it wasn't / They told me to change, they called me names, and so I popped one / Opinions are like assholes and everybody's got one."


I feel like if 'None Of Your Business' was released today, it would go viral in an instant; #NoneOfYourBusiness would be a feminist hashtag as powerful as #YesAllWomen and #NotBuyingIt. It would be a shorthand response for a particular brand of shaming and judgement. We'd probably call their music 'feminist R&B' and maybe file it alongside Beyonce under that category on iTunes.

The thing is SNP existed in a time when the musical landscape was mired in (sadly) just about as much sexism as it is right now but with very few avenues for anyone to publicly critique it. What makes SNP so bold is that they independently chose to flip the script. They behaved like they were as empowered as the male rappers. They wore sexy clothing, talked about enjoying casual sex, they objectified men, and across many tracks directly addressed the way women were/are shamed for promiscuous behaviours.

In the film clip to 'None Of Your Business' (which, as an aside, is brimming with same-sex couples), we find James, Denton and Roper rolling around semi-dressed in mud but there's no men leering on from the background. They're on their own, doing it for their own pleasure. The male gaze is gloriously absent.

SNP were no one-trick-ponies either - the theme of female empowerment thumps through almost every track on every album. Memorable highlights: 'The Clock Is Tickin', a track about escaping from abusive relationships; 'Tramp', a tune about sexual harassment; and the sex-positive ear worm we've all screamed along to on the dancefloor, 'Let's Talk About Sex'. If it's been a while between SNP albums for you, treat yo'self and download their 'best of' - it is a truly rare combination of good music that's good for you.

Now, it was the '90s and I'm not arguing that SNP's gender politics were always perfect, but they were certainly light years ahead of their time. And who are their successors? Ignoring Beyonce, it's hard to come up with the names of female R&B (or even pop or indie stars) singing about female empowerment and sexual freedom in the same way today. It's such a shame when there is so obviously such a hunger for it. Sadly, it seems the bulk of today's mainstream female musicians would rather sing about booties.

Cheryl James, Sandra Denton and Deidra Roper were progressive, powerful women. They fought for creative control of their message and their music and the results are inspired. On the 20th anniversary of their Grammy for 'None Of Your Business', I don't think it's an overstatement to call these women visionaries and we need more like them. Disagree? Well, to invoke my ladies...

So the moral of this story is: Who are you to judge?

There's only one true judge, and that's God

So chill, and let my Father do His job

Cause Salt and Pepa's got it swingin' again

Cause Salt and Pepa's got it swingin' again

Cause Salt and Pepa's got it swingin' again

Cause Salt and Pepa's got it swingin' again.