When it came to pushing the envelope in the male-dominated rap game, Salt-N-Pepa were the strong, independent women all the young girls admired and aspired to be. The Queens, New York-bred dynamic duo delivered liberating lyrics on empowering female anthems such as "Respect Yourself," "Whatta Man," and "Push It." After the ladies disbanded, Cheryl "Salt" Wray and Sandy "Pepa" Denton were reunited on their VH1 reality show, where they openly addressed their past hurts and settled their differences. ESSENCE.com checked in with Salt, where she talked about the future of the Salt-N-Pepa reality show, the man who once assaulted her, and why Rihanna and Chris Brown need to take a step back.
ESSENCE.COM: We miss you! When is the Salt-N-Pepa show returning to the tube?
CHERYL "SALT" WRAY: We did good numbers, but when you put them up to" I Love New York" or "Rock of Love," our numbers were just okay because it didn't render that kind of drama. So they wanted to try something else and their dating shows have been doing well so they recruited Pep to have her own show. Pep, who has assumed a vow of celibacy for four years, has raised her standards and I'm so proud of her. So it will follow her and some single girlfriends—Jacque Reid, former BET News anchor, Kiddie, voiceover artist and formerly the voice of BET's virtual animation around-the-way-girl Cita, Joumana Kidd, the ex-wife of NBA baller Jason Kidd—who are all trying to find love. I'll come in once in while as her friend, but I'm married.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you trying to say you are too boring and don't fit the angry Black woman stereotype that they love for dramality TV?
SALT: (Laughs.) Well, Pep and I represented on our show in a positive light. We showed that there are more Black women out there and not just the ones in videos and on television arguing and causing drama. Black women are truly misrepresented on these reality shows and they only represent one image of us and that is we're angry, we're loud, we fight, we're sex objects, we're abrasive, we're not intelligent, we're not married, we don't have families or kids and simply can't get along with anyone. Pep's show will be fun and I'm very proud of the two seasons we had together because we drove positivity with going to march in support of the Jena 6 kids and meeting with Iyanla Vanzant, but everyone doesn't appreciate that. Pep's show will still be executive produced by me, my sister Kim James and Pepa, so although I'm not involved, I'm going to pray that the spirit of the Lord is there anyway and that it's not fluff or bafoonery (laugh). Again, I'm so proud of Pepa, who is making a powerful and strong statement to young girls by choosing to stay celibate and hold out for true love from a man who truly respects her.
ESSENCE.COM: Speaking of men respecting their women, everyone's talking about Rihanna and Chris Brown's alleged domestic violence incident. As a woman who was once assaulted by a former co-worker, how did you recover?
SALT: It's nothing you ever want to feel, believe me. The guy who assaulted me was (co-worker). He was jumping my boyfriend at the time and I ran across the street. It was a reflex and I got blindsided by a fist and knocked to the ground, where he proceeded to kick me. Pepa was begging for him to stop. When you're being hit by a man, there's really nothing you can do as a woman. There simply is no fight.
ESSENCE.COM: What advice would you give to any woman who's being beaten by a man?
SALT: I would tell any female to do anything they can to avoid that. Therefore, if you get with a guy and he has a temper and punches walls, then that should be a red flag and you might not want to pursue a relationship with him. Or a guy who has a father who abused his mother often tends to repeat that behavior, so women always need to be fully aware of who they are dealing with.
ESSENCE.COM: Many argue that Rihanna provoked the fight because she hit Chris Brown first. Do you agree?
SALT: Personally, I would never hit a guy, but I think he might have taken it way too far. There are a lot of other things that he could have done. People keep saying he hit her, but what she allegedly received was a beat down. He was strong enough to deliver those blows; he could have easily restrained her. Quite frankly, it's a punk move to hit a any woman because a woman can't hit you back. She's not going to win. If a woman tells a guy to shut up and he automatically punches you in the face, I have to ask, Would he react the same way if another dude told him to shut up? No, because he knows it's not going to be an easy fight and with a woman it always will be. Now is it right for a woman to provoke anger in any man? Never under any circumstances.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you think volatile relationships are worst among youth?
SALT: I don't know, but young women tend to think that hitting equals love, but it has nothing to do with love. Rihanna and Chris Brown have that youth, passion and a quick temper which isn't always a good mix. You have to stop and think before making any actions. When I was younger, me and my boyfriend Gavin, who is my husband now, would argue, and when I saw him getting angry, I'd back off or he would leave. If things get heated you have to give one another a chance to breathe, think and let the anger pass. So I'd say to Rihanna and Chris: take a breather and spend some time apart.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you think Rihanna or Chris can recover from this?
SALT: I believe he has anger issues, and with the right counseling he can get pass this. Rihanna definitely has a lesson to learn, because she's human and you're going to make mistakes and eventually she'll come to her senses. Unfortunately, there was a time when certain behaviors were swept under the rug. They might have been considered shameful behaviors, like excessive partying, driving while drinking, womanizing and such. Today, those same behaviors are almost celebrated. It should have an affect on Chris Brown's career, but I don't know that it will because a lot of people have done some outrageous things and nothing has happened. Yes, it might cause an entertainer to lose a few endorsements, but a lot of these young fans are pretty confused because they are bombarded with rappers going to jail and the Lindsay Lohans of the world, so they become desensitized. Our job is to empower the youth and make them stop, think and take action against certain behaviors in these artists that are unacceptable and not support them. I believe the feeling is they're a superstar, they can do whatever they want, and that's not right. We have to take a stand.
ESSENCE.COM: If you could share some words of wisdom with Rihanna, what would you say?
SALT: What I'd say to all young people is, love yourself enough to make the right choices for you. These sort of things happen when we have low self-esteem and don't understand our self-worth. When you respect yourself and your boundaries, others will never cross the line and harm you.
Check back tomorrow to read our exclusive interview with Sandy "Pepa" Denton, a domestic violence survivor.