Salt N Pepa were the City Girls of the 1980s. Known by most for their 1987 party anthem ‘Push It’, the duo (comprised of Cheryl ‘Salt’ James and Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton) were the first mainstream female emcees with no male counterparts. Formed in Queens, New York, the femcee double-act was the first female group to achieve gold and platinum status and paved the way for many of the female rap acts we see today. However, the two ladies stirred up a lot of controversy in the early ’90s with one of their music videos, which involved an infamous male rap artist.
As 1993 wound down, and 1994 drew ever closer, one rapper gaining traction and grabbing the attention of hip-hop fans worldwide was the iconic 2Pac (real name Tupac Shakur). After his stint with Digital Underground in Oakland, by 1993, Shakur had successfully taken over Los Angeles and was the new face of Death Row Records. Quickly placed under the wing of Suge Knight as a formidable, provocative black revolutionary, 2Pac, within months, had riled up hip-hop and struck up a fair amount of fear in people.
While he was in the public eye, Tupac had various overt romances. However, one of his lesser-known relationships was with Charyl ‘Salt’ James. Shakur met James through Pepa’s boyfriend Treach, who was the face of the renowned New Jersey rap collective Naughty by Nature. From when they first met in 1993, the two lovebirds had a very close bond. Following 2Pac’s 1994 shooting, the two began to grow even closer. Salt’s loyalty to the emcee persisted even as he grew more infamous, and her love for Shakur didn’t wane when he was charged and jailed for alleged rape in 1995.
In late 1993, Salt N Pepa released their fourth album, Very Necessary, which managed to achieve multi-platinum status selling over two million units. Wanting to go all-out for their joint single ‘Whatta Man’ with R’n’B group En Vogue in 1994, James and Denton began casting for a male to appear in their racy music video. However, unable to find a suitable actor, Salt chose the already controversial and coarse figure, her partner in crime, 2Pac. The video featured Salt and Shakur getting steamy under the covers in a bedroom scene but never showed Shakur’s face in full view. However, the initial video did and was aired a few times before the label forced television companies to cease and desist until they provided them with the revised version.
Explaining how the label couldn’t affiliate their product with such a contentious figure, Denton told the online music publication Rock The Bells, “The record company all panicked and only kept shots where you can’t see him. There were some great 2pac shots. And Salt always kicks herself. You can’t fight the record company.” James, filled with frustration, told the interviewer, “I hate that when I watch the video, it really bothers me. It was too much for TV, I guess, the way I did it. I guess. It was hittin’ for a minute! And then, after a while, with [my] legs opening, you didn’t see it. The record company was like, ‘Oh my god’ with everything. So I guess with my legs out, it was a controversy. They got heat from it. They make those decisions. I remember not wanting to take anything out!”
While 2pac was incarcerated awaiting trial for his rape charge, James wrote Shakur regularly, explaining “When he went to jail — me being a Christian — I wrote him letters about my faith to encourage him and also to let him know what kept me going in hard times.”
In recent times they have even unearthed a poem he wrote for her. There was obviously a great deal of love there. However, of course, it wouldn’t flourish as shortly after Shakur was acquitted of his charges, he was brutally murdered in Las Vegas. You can watch the edited video for ‘Whatta Man’ below.