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Salt-n-Pepa - Topic

Blacks' Magic Play

Prior to the release of their third album, Blacks' Magic, Salt-N-Pepa were viewed as little more than pop crossover artists. Most of their singles had been rap remakes of old R&B songs, and they hadn't even rapped all that much on their biggest hit, "Push It," which got by on its catchy synth hook. But Blacks' Magic was where Salt-N-Pepa came into their own. It wasn't that their crossover appeal diminished, but this time they worked from a funkier R&B base that brought them more credibility among hip-hop and urban audiences. More importantly, they displayed a stronger group identity than ever before, projecting a mix of sassy, self-confident feminism and aggressive -- but responsible -- sexuality. The album's trio of hit singles -- "Expression," "Do You Want Me," and the playful safe-sex anthem "Let's Talk About Sex" -- summed up this new attitude and got the group plastered all over MTV. But there was more to the album than just the singles -- track for track, Blacks' Magic was the strongest record Salt-N-Pepa ever released. Even if there's still a bit of filler here and there, Blacks' Magic successfully remade Salt-N-Pepa as their own women, and pointed the way to the even more commercially successful R&B/pop/hip-hop fusions of Very Necessary. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi

A Salt with a Deadly Pepa Play

Attempting to follow up the crossover success of "Push It," Salt-n-Pepa hastily recorded A Salt With a Deadly Pepa, which essentially tries to replicate the charms of their debut without expanding on them very much. It doesn't end up quite as engaging, and the duo's limitations start to show themselves on the more underdeveloped material here. There are some good moments, but the album's centerpieces are once again borrowed ideas. "Shake Your Thang" is another hip-hop remake in the vein of "Tramp," this time of the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing"; there's also a less-satisfying Isleys cover from a different era in "Twist and Shout" (which lifts the beat of Toni Basil's "Mickey"), plus a rap take on Joe Tex's "I Gotcha." Elsewhere, "I Like It Like That" recycles the beat and brash shout-outs of "Push It." Thankfully, the next time out, Salt-n-Pepa would rethink their music and assume much greater creative control. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi

Hot, Cool & Vicious Play

One of the first albums to be released by an all-female rap group, Hot, Cool & Vicious is paced by its opening track, "Push It," one of the first rap songs to hit number one on the dance singles charts. Considering how little Salt-n-Pepa actually rap on "Push It," which is all about its instrumental hook, they maintain a surprisingly strong presence over most of Hot, Cool & Vicious. No, they aren't technical virtuosos on the mic, but their fairly basic raps are carried off with brash confidence and enthusiasm. Some of the other key tracks borrow ideas from outside sources: the single "Tramp" is a rap remake of the Otis & Carla soul classic, and "The Show Stopper" is an answer record to Doug E. Fresh's "The Show." The duo's sass comes across very well on "My Mic Sounds Nice" and "I'll Take Your Man," and they're equally assertive on "Chick on the Side." In the end, the album needs a little more weight to really come across well, but it's fun and danceable all the same. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi

Very Necessary Play

Salt-N-Pepa exhibited a lot of growth on Blacks' Magic (1990), their third album and, by far, best to date. For their follow-up, Very Necessary, released a long three and a half years later, in 1993, the ladies delivered a fairly similar album. Like its predecessor, Very Necessary boasts a pair of major hits ("Whatta Man," "Shoop") and a lot of fine album tracks. Also like Blacks' Magic, Very Necessary is filled with strong, prideful rhetoric: femininity, sex, relationships, romance, respect, love -- these are the key topics, and they're a world apart from those of the gangsta rap that was so popular circa 1993. And as always, the productions are dance-oriented, with a contemporary R&B edge. Most tracks were produced by Hurby "Luvbug" Azor, though Salt is credited on a few, chief among them "Shoop." Very Necessary is just as impressive as Blacks' Magic, if not more so. The key difference is, Blacks' Magic was a striking leap forward for Salt-N-Pepa, who were somewhat of a novelty act up to that point, whereas Very Necessary is a consolidation of everything that had worked so well for the duo previously. Hence the lack of surprises here. Still, the raised expectations don't change the fact that Very Necessary is one of the standout -- and, for sure, one of the most refreshingly unique -- rap albums of its era. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Salt-N-Pepa Play

It's hard to believe that there wasn't a U.S.-released Salt-N-Pepa best-of until the trio got its entry in the 20th Century Masters series. (A Blitz of Salt-N-Pepa Hits: The Hits Remixed does not count, and 2000s The Best of Salt-N-Pepa wasn't distributed in the States.) Released in 2008, this disc doesn't contain anything from Salt-N-Pepa's last album, 1997's Brand New, but it features almost every significant single from their first four. That said, two of the best tracks from Blacks' Magic, "You Showed Me" and "Do You Want Me" (a number seven rap single that seemed nearly as ubiquitous as "Push It" for a couple months during 1991), are missing -- bound to be an issue for some. Do give the compilers some credit for tapping "My Mic Sounds Nice." ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

The Best of Salt 'n Pepa Play

The Best of Salt 'n Pepa is an excellent 15-track overview of the groundbreaking female rap group's career, featuring all their big hits from the early days up through their platinum success in the '90s. The main problem is that it hasn't been released in the U.S., and it's also the only good Salt-n-Pepa compilation on the market to date -- so if you want it, you'll have to pay an excessive import price for it. That's a shame, because it's an excellent summary of their career. There are a few alternate mixes included, like the video version of "Whatta Man" and two different versions of "Push It," but there are no glaring omissions or substitutions. It might have been nice if the tracks were ordered chronologically, so that the group's development from cover-happy dance-rappers to sexy crossover hitmakers could be traced more readily. But their assertive self-confidence and underlying feminism hold everything together, and the best singles here rank as influential hip-hop classics. If only there were a domestic compilation...~ Steve Huey, Rovi
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