When Salt-N-Pepa first hit the scene, they had no idea that they would shift the world of music and lay the foundation for women in Hip-Hop like the world sees today.

“I think having international success was a big deal for us,” Cheryl “Salt” James told AFROTECH when asked about the time they discovered the impact of their music on the culture. “You know, a lot of artists hadn’t made it overseas yet, and out the gate, we kind of just had that success.”

Early Success

What’s more, she recalls memories of hearing the duo’s song on the radio for the first time, how they boycotted the Grammys, and the positive feedback from fans that helped the group understand the influence they had as artists.

With so many 50th anniversary Hip-Hop celebrations underway, Salt-N-Pepa took a moment to reflect on how far the genre has come since sowing its seeds from the start.

“We didn’t have as much control over our business,” James said. “That model has changed. There’s way more opportunity for women to really be the CEO of their music, of their careers, and that’s really good to see.”

With hits like “Push It,” making its way to commercials, television, and film spots long after the song debuted in 1987, the pair says “going through it” quickly helped them to learn the nature of the music business as it pertains to ownership.

Learning The Business

“Not getting your just due in the beginning about the royalties, the tracks, mechanical production, all of that,” Sandra “Pepa” Denton recalled. “What I do have to say is, sadly, as an artist you want to just create, but unfortunately you have to become that lawyer, you have to stay on top of things, crossing your T’s, dotting your I’s. And even though they’ll tell you that, ‘Oh, you’re only worth this so you only get this certain amount,’ you have to cross-reference and stay on top of your business.”

She continued: “So it’s kind of been going through what we went through, and I think a lot of these women and artists today, hats off to you, you can talk about it and be like, ‘Oh, you got to check your royalties, and what you’re worth, what you’re selling, and ask these questions.’ I think, in our case, just going through it and being able to stomp it out, paying attention, and moving through that thing, is what really taught us the nature of this business.”

Partnering With The Right People

During Salt-N-Pepa’s reign, partnering with brands also wasn’t as huge as it is today, which is why the women say they’re intentional when it comes to working alongside big names such as their current collaborator Smirnoff.

The perfect partnership, in their eyes, is one that embodies some of the qualities and values that they have lived by since the very beginning.

“I think what we represent, we stand by empowering women and uplifting women, learning the ways ourselves, and giving back,” Denton said. “I think it’s important to have that representation to make sure that product represents you as well as what they’re representing for themselves.”

Giving Back

For them, partnering with Smirnoff was a no-brainer because the overall mission is to support women in music. Throughout the summer, the company’s Smirnoff ICE Relaunch Tour has held concerts including some of the hottest names in the game to help benefit ladies in their musical pursuits.

All ticket sale proceeds from each of the shows have gone directly to support the nonprofit, Women In Music, an organization focused on “advancing equality, visibility, and opportunities for women in musical arts through education, support, empowerment, and recognition.”

Like most musicians, Salt-N-Pepa admit that their first check was spent on flashy things such as a new car and jewelry, but today they’re making smart money moves by investing, securing life insurance, and building generational wealth for their families.