No discussion of hip-hop pioneers should be had without giving props to the contributions of female rap duo Salt-N-Pepa. Sandy Denton and Cheryl James Wray were partners-in-rhyme who held their own in a male-dominated genre without compromising their femininity. Their trendsetting style and lyrical prowess earned the Queens-bred divas legions of fans worldwide. The original crazy-sexy-cool ladies of hip-hop delivered classic cuts such as “The Show Stopper,” “I’ll Take Your Man,” “Tramp,” “Whatta Man,” “Shoop” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” and the timeless party-jumper “Push It.” The fire-starter of the group, Pepa, has released her autobiography, “Let’s Talk About Pep” (Simon & Schuster), speaking candidly about her personal trials and tribulations in the industry, as well as her turbulent romances. ESSENCE.com had a heart-to-heart with the sassy, statuesque lyricist about finding the courage to break her silence, surviving physical abuse, and why she’s still standing strong.
ESSENCE.COM: Pep, you are a true sheroe. Thank you for having the courage to share your personal testimony in your autobiography, ‘Let’s Talk About Pep.’ What was your biggest apprehension about baring it all?
EPA: You know, it’s funny, because industry people know they always looked at me a certain way, and at one point you start to believe all the hype and convince yourself that you are what people think you are. For years, I thought nothing was wrong with me. I played the part but I’m not practicing what I preach, I’m talking the talk but not walking the walk. So my biggest apprehension is having my family find out all these things, because they don’t know half of the things I went through. I love my mom and she’s very supportive, but I haven’t seen my mom read a book, but she wants to read mine.
ESSENCE.COM: So you never talked to her about anything that happened to you as a child?
EPA: No, not really.
ESSENCE.COM: Not even the child molestation you endured?
EPA: I didn’t know how she would take it. I even feel embarrassed about cutting my wrists and what people might think about that, but I know I had to tell my story despite what everyone’s reactions might be.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you aware that self-mutilation has been associated with rape and molestation victims?
EPA: Are you serious? No, this is my first time hearing that. I thought no one did that but me.
ESSENCE.COM: You said that Iyanla Vanzant asked you how old you were when you were molested, because she associated your chronic lateness with that specific victimization. Have you become more prompt?
EPA: Yes, that was the first time I had heard that chronic lateness could be a result of life traumas and trying to seize control. But I’m proud to say that in the past year I’ve made it my business not to be late.
ESSENCE.COM: And what about the rest of your family members whom you talk about in the book?
EPA: Well, my sister Jean kept asking me, “What did you say about me?” and I tried to brush it off, and I finally told her that I only said what you are. Jean is the bully of the family (laughs).
ESSENCE.COM: You detail your stormy marriage to Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss, from Naughty by Nature, and the years of abuse he put you through. Have you ever had an opportunity to talk to him, post-divorce, about how it affected you?
EPA: No, and honestly, he’s the one person I’m nervous about reading this, but I had to do it. How do I not tell that part of my life story? This book is not so much about my abuse, but my road to recovery.
ESSENCE.COM: For years, there had been industry whisperings about you and Treach’s tumultuous marriage. Has he ever reached out to you to apologize?
PEPA: No, and I want to make it clear it is what it is. From what I know, people grow and that might have been who he was in the past. I can’t speak for who he is now. Hopefully, this was then. He really is a great father to his kids. I don’t want to make him out to be the bad guy. Again, the real story I wanted to tell is more about why I allowed these things to happen to me.
ESSENCE.COM: Understood, and anyone can appreciate that. There’s no question that we’re all a work in progress. Where are you on your road to recovery?
EPA: Honestly, I’m really there. Of course, you’re always open for improvement. But when I think about the type of person I was and how I viewed life, I’m like, 100 percent. I’m nowhere near where I was before this personal journey. Again, there’s always room to grow and I’ll continue to do that. Finally, I’m not fronting. Now, I’m so on point and have finally figured me out. People always say they want this kind of [self-actualization] and knowing our self-worth. I’m in a good place, and I really feel like I’m on my A-game right now.
ESSENCE.COM: That’s truly a blessing. In your book you say that your decision to change your patterns with abusive relationships had to do with your son, Tyran, and Egypt, your daughter with Treach. Did they ever witness the physical abuse and question you about it?
EPA: No, never physical, but they were often present during yelling and screaming matches. People forget that verbal abuse is equally unhealthy. My kids used to see me crying and depressed all the time, and that can affect kids as well. Now, if I get a little down or sad and my daughter notices and asks whether I’m okay, I say, “Yes, I’m fine. Mommy’s just trying to figure something out.” She doesn’t like it when I act antsy or confused, so I have to say to myself, Okay, let me relax. And my son is at the age where I can talk with him now.
ESSENCE.COM: So has your son read the book, and have you finally spoken to him about it?
EPA: I try to say a little bit to him. All he asks is, “Am I going to be embarrassed?” That’s his thing, and I just had to say, “Well, there are some things that happened to me when I was young.” And his response was, “Aww man, that’s going to hurt me.” And I simply told him we’ll talk about it another day.
ESSENCE.COM: What is the lesson you’ve taught your son about how to treat women?
EPA: I constantly talk to him about how to treat a woman. He tells me everything. That’s the one thing I make sure I do-communicate with my kids. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t have that open talk with me, and I promised myself that if I ever had kids, I would be open with them. And my son is a really decent guy. He’s 18 and he’s not a womanizer. When it comes to my daughter, I tell her, if anyone touches you, let me know. Because of the molestation I experienced as a child, I feel nervous for her, so I make sure to ask her those questions. I just think that’s important; it affects me still.
ESSENCE.COM: I can only imagine. Do you think you’re overprotective of your daughter?
EPA: No more than any other parent. But again, what happened to me still affects me. I always have to tell her that she has to tell me if anyone bothers her, and that I won’t be mad at her because I love her, because silence kills and people who abuse depend on their victim’s silence as a tool to continue to victimize others.
ESSENCE.COM: What is the one thing that you hope readers will walk away with?
EPA: That it’s never too late for growth and that this too shall pass. There is nothing that you can’t overcome. So it’s never too late for happiness.
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