Sandra “Pepa” Denton
Sandra Denton is best known as “Pepa” from the groundbreaking, all-female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa.
Sandra "Pepa" Denton was born on November 9, 1969, in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Queens, New York. As a college student she teamed up with her friend Cheryl James to form the hip-hop/rap duo Salt-N-Pepa. Accompanied by DJ Deidra Roper, Salt-N-Pepa became one of the most successful hip-hop groups of the late 1980s and 1990s, releasing crossover hits like "Let's Talk About Sex" and "Shoop.”
Childhood and Education
Sandra "Pepa" Denton was born on November 9, 1969, in Kingston, Jamaica. She was the youngest of eight children, and she lived on a farm with her grandmother until she was 6 years old. She then moved to the borough of Queens in New York City, where her parents had moved three years earlier and her older siblings had gradually followed. She eventually graduated from high school in Queens and enrolled in nursing courses at Queensborough Community College.
Creation of Salt-N-Pepa
While in college, Denton met fellow student Cheryl James. The two became fast friends and also began working part-time at a Sears department store. There they met aspiring producer Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, who asked the two young women to rap on a song he was putting together. The result, titled "The Show Stopper," was released as a single in 1985 and became an underground hit. The duo of Denton and James named themselves Salt-N-Pepa, and with Azor as their manager and Pamela Latoya Greene joining them as their DJ, they were signed by the label Next Plateau. The group's debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious, was released in 1986.
Salt-N-Pepa moved beyond local hip-hop success to wider fame when a remix of their B-side "Push It" was released nationally in 1988 and became a hit. That year they replaced Green with a new DJ, Deidra "Spinderella" Roper, and released their second album, A Salt with a Deadly Pepa. Their third album, Blacks' Magic, included their biggest hit to date, the frankly worded "Let's Talk About Sex."
Their fourth album, 1993's Very Necessary, completed Salt-N-Pepa's transition from New York rap to the top of the national pop charts. Its singles included "Shoop," "Whatta Man" (for which they teamed up with the R&B group En Vogue) and "None of Your Business," a Grammy winner for Best Rap Performance in 1994. However, their fifth album, Brand New (1997), turned out to be their last.
By the time Salt-N-Pepa officially parted ways in 2002, they were recognized as one of the first and most important female hip-hop groups and as musicians who successfully bridged the worlds of rap and pop. Other women in hip-hop, from Queen Latifah to Missy Elliott to Lil' Kim, say that Denton, James and Roper have inspired and influenced them.
Denton has made a number of film and television appearances throughout her career. She and James both appeared in the 1993 comedy film Who's the Man? with Dr. Dre. They starred in the reality series The Salt-N-Pepa Show in 2007-08, and Pepa then struck out on her own with the autobiography Let's Talk About Pep (2008) and a television show of the same title (2010). In her book and her show, Denton revealed her own past as a sexual abuse victim, and she continues to speak out about sexual violence against women. She is also a supporter of Lifebeat, an organization that works to educate young people about HIV/AIDS.
Denton was married to the rapper Anthony ("Treach") Criss, from the group Naughty by Nature, from 1999 to 2001. The couple had a daughter named Egypt Criss in 1998. Denton also has a son named Tyran Moore Jr., born in 1990, from a relationship with Tyran Moore.
(Profile photo of Sandra "Pepa" Denton by Tim Roney/Getty Images)