I cannot believe how young I was when Salt-N-Pepa's Blacks' Magic was released. How is it possible that "Let's Talk About Sex" was my jam in middle school--and my parents didn't freak? What's more, two years later, at 13, TLC became my girl group du jour, condoms adorning their clothes en masse. As a mother now I would never go for that; my five-year-old daughter will not be popping her gum to songs with "sex" in the title six years from now. I might consider letting her listen to a responsible safe-sex anthem with me, so we can talk it over together, but who is even making message music like that these days? Who will be? (This is me venturing into "get off my lawn!" and/or "they just don't make music like that anymore" territory, but I digress.)
Anyway, I tend to think it was the times above all else. We were fresh off the '80s when Blacks' Magic was released--the decade that introduced us to HIV and AIDS. You couldn't be in the least bit informed about the world and not feel almost inundated at times by the heavy reality of HIV. So "Let's Talk About Sex" was stunningly timely. Salt-N-Pepa were always timely, though. Besides Queen Latifah, there were no other female rappers who took such an ostentatiously palpable feminist stance. And despite our youth, that's what resonated with me and my girlfriends more than anything. This was true girl power/black girl empowerment; an unapologetic ownership of female desire. It's rather fitting that S-N-P were the first all-girl group to win a GRAMMY for Best Rap Performance for another feminist jam, "None of Your Business" from Blacks' Magic's follow-up Very Necessary.
Blacks' Magic was the second S-N-P album to be certified platinum; their debut Hot, Cool & Vicious had done it four years previous. But it was this album that launched Cheryl "Salt" James, Sandy "Pepa" Denton and Deidra "Spinderella" Roper into bonafied pop stardom. Co-produced by their founder, frequent collaborator and Salt's one-time boyfriend Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, Blacks' Magic was sassy and sexual but never crass or tacky, and in new America, where irresponsible sex could quite literally kill you, their brash political anthems were momentous medicine. The album's first track, "Expression," was a fitting intro to a far refined hip-hop-meets-R&B sound coupled with their familiar "be you" stance. "Do You Want Me" continued the theme of self-respect; a danceable hip-hop version of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait Awhile." In my young mind, Salt, Pep and Spin had the entire concept of "making him wait" sounding extremely cool; as in, "dope girls don't give it up too fast." And S-N-P were "Independent" when Destiny's Child were in grade school.
The aforementioned mammoth hit "Let's Talk About Sex," which I venture to say is still one of the most powerful hip-hop songs ever released, actually had two remixes, one of which was re-titled "Let's Talk About AIDS" (the other is one of my favorite remixes ever). I remember this track being quite controversial at the time. It was even banned from several different radio stations; an act which seems inexplicably puritan and foolish 20 years later. HIV and AIDS was still such a taboo topic at the top of the '90s, even after a decade of diagnoses. The safe sex movement was still in its infancy in 1990, actually, and "Let's Talk About Sex/AIDS" played a part in bringing the conversation to the forefront amongst heterosexual black people in particular, who would become the largest population to become HIV infected.
The hardest rhyming on Blacks' Magic can be found on the cuts that weren't released as singles, i.e. "Negro Wit' An Ego," which saw Spinderella grabbing a mic, and "Swift." Every song is solid, but some are clearly standouts. That being said, Blacks' Magic is my probably my favorite S-N-P album. A lot of heads might cite the 5x platinum Very Necessary because of "Shoop" and "Whatta Man," but BM is way more cohesive as a whole. It definitely stands the test of time.
Despite the group reforming in 2007 to record new music, as documented by VH1's The Salt-n-Pepa Show, no new S-N-P music has been released in 12 years. The trio did perform in 2008 at the BET Hip Hop Awards alongside Yo-Yo, MC Lyte and Lady of Rage and again last year at a concert titled "Ladies of the '80s" with SWV and Lisa Lisa. And just last month at the 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards Salt-N-Pepa were presented with the "I Am Hip Hop" award to celebrate their 25 years in the game. I'm happy to relish in their classic cuts, whatever the case. I'm just proud to have been as heavily influenced as I was by strong women like Cheryl, Sandy and Dee.