In the male-dominated world of hip-hop, it has never been easy for the female emcees to step forward and outshine their male counterparts but that’s exactly what the all-girl hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa did back in the ‘80s. Formed in 1985, the group consisted of Cheryl James aka Salt and Sandra Jacqueline Denton aka Pepa along with DJ Sprindella whose real name is Deidra Roper.
And, oh yes, for the unversed, Salt-n-Pepa members are famously known as “The First Ladies of Hip-Hop.” The trio won the coveted Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for their hit single ‘None of Your Business.’ It made them one of the first female rap acts to win a Grammy Award, along with Queen Latifah, who won during the same year. Salt-N-Pepa is also known for their hit singles ‘Push It,’ ‘Let’s Talk About Sex,’ and ‘Shake That Thang,’ among a few others.
A biopic the group also called ‘Salt-N-Pepa’ is now coming to the streaming platform Lifetime on January 23, 2021, which will shed light on their personal and professional life. The biopic will star G G Townson as Salt, Laila Odom as Pepa, Cleveland Berto as music producer Hurby Azor, Jermel Howard as rapper Treach and Monique Paul as DJ Spinderella. MEAWW got in touch with Laila Odom for an exclusive interview for the same. From getting advice from the real Pepa to wearing the most iconic outfits, Odom discussed all the distinctions of her life and career. Here are the excerpts:
We’re sure you must have prepped a lot from your end to ensure you do justice to your character but since you are playing the role of a hip-hop artist, did you always like listening to this genre or was it hard for you to adapt to this role?
I am definitely accustomed to hip-hop music and I grew up listening to this kind of music, and therefore, it wasn’t hard for me to portray a character who belonged to the same genre.
How was your bonding with your co-star GG Townson on the show? How often did you’ll sit together in order to make sure the close bond is visible on the screen since the biopic is based on a group?
Well, that’s a great question! We already knew each other through a lot of mutual content creators in Los Angeles. Everyone collaborating with each other and we almost had the same circle and we, I believe, started to do a lot of work together once we got on this project. I remember, when I saw her name for the role of ‘Salt’ – the role she was roped-in for, so, I called her and ever since then we have been good friends. Fortunately, we shared a bond as the real ‘Salt-N-Pepa’ girls had. We were doing this movie together, so we got to explore a lot of things and this movie was definitely a building block for our friendship.
From what we saw in the trailer, you rap real sharp, and Salt-N-Peppa was known not just for rapping but for also bringing fun, fashion and feminity to hip-hop. How did you bring that to the table?
We had an amazing choreographer and an amazing costume designer and therefore if we talk about bringing fun to the table that was not even a difficult task as we loved going to work every day and we love what we do. Even if we had long shifts of dance rehearsals, we really loved it. It never really felt like work and therefore, the bond, the friendship, everything could come through easily. However, it doesn’t mean, we did not have rough days- we definitely did but our friendship allowed us to rely on each other which you will see in the movie. You see it growing just like Sandra (Denton) and Cheryl (James)’ friendship was tested. We were filming in Toronto, it was cold and a lot of things we weren’t used but we went through it together and that was a must in making this film work.
Did you guys catch up with the real group before you signed the project? Did they give you any advice on how to proceed with the roles?
They did meet us. Both the members from Salt-N-Pepa were on the set towards the end of the making of the film and it was an awesome experience to have them there so we could ask questions and follow-up with them if we somehow missed out on anything. Pepa had her tell-all book with her on the set and then I met her and I used to compare the book with the script and I also used to talk to her in order to figure out what she was comfortable with. It was a learning experience and it was very helpful to have her book and even them being present on the set was an added advantage. We could always ask them questions only they could answer.
Are you content with the show getting aired on Lifetime or do you feel this deserves a bigger streaming platform in order to make it reach a wider audience?
I am very pleased and happy that we are on Lifetime and the movie is being produced by Sony Pictures- I am definitely happy with that. We also have an enormous billboard and I think, a lot of people are going to tune-in and a lot of people want to hear about the story of two females in a male-dominated industry. During the time of ‘Salt-N-Pepa, there was no social media and there wasn’t a way for the fans to really get to know their favorite rapper. Our project hence will shed light on their time and really get the story out there.
You guys can be seen wearing one of the Salt-N-Pepa’s most iconic outfits: the eight-ball jackets from their 1986 “Push It” music video. Were they the real jackets and even if they were not, how did you feel stepping into their shoes?
I think it was so surreal and this would be the best word to describe it because our outfits were cut-to-size which means the jackets were specially tailored for GG and me. It was in fact, really iconic for the team to remake the entire video (Push It) and the entire look. It was really special and, I wish, I could say we kept those jackets but unfortunately, we didn’t. I wanted that jacket so badly because everyone knows what that jacket is all about and undoubtedly, it has to be one of my most favorite outfits.
Scantily clad in sexy clothing back in the day, Salt N Pepa was not afraid to talk about sex and their thoughts about men. Their song ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ was a huge hit. How much of this will we see in the show? And, will we also get the answers on why DJ Sprindella left the group?
Well, the thing about DJ Sprindrella is, she is in the film but we don’t address the relationship and the things that happened after. We just don’t. And, to be really honest, I won’t be able to answer this question as Salt and Pepa know about this better. I don’t know have any firsthand information on this matter. But for us, when it comes to the film, we had a male aspect, we had the music producer Hurby (Azor) and you will see us in the film making music and writing songs and, it was crucial to show women at the top in the movie when it comes to music and, that is something we show which is very important.
What was the first thing which crossed your mind when you got the role? What did you feel at the time since this is an important role in your career?
This is certainly the most important role of my career so far and I just wanted Pepa to be proud and do justice to her legacy. I did not have any other ideas or concerns. I just wanted her to be proud of how I portrayed her and that was my most important drive in working and making sure that Pepa was comfortable and felt respected. I wanted her to feel that I was delivering my best performance.
We can see the hard work behind the project and it does look promising. What is your current state of mind? Do you feel this show will give you the spotlight which an actor craves for?
I definitely think that this opportunity will open more doors for me. I am really excited for the future and I am really proud as an actor to be able to portray the role who goes through the dance, singing, rapping and a complete package as a whole. As an actor, you might not get a chance to showcase other talents that you have and this role definitely does that. I am really excited about the future.