I feel as though this flashback should actually be on Salt-N-Pepa rather than just one of their albums, since they played such a pivotal role in defining my early musical tastes. Plus, if I were to select one album from their catalog as their strongest or best, it wouldn’t be Very Necessary. It would probably be their third album, Black’s Magic, which, track for track, is their most solid offering from their unfortunately short-lived career.
Still, for nostalgic reasons, I’ve decided to go with their fourth album, which released the year I was a high school senior. I’m going with this one for a couple of reasons. First, this was one of the last rap/R&B albums I ever bought. I spent a good portion of my middle school and high school days memorizing the lyrics to all variety of rap songs from all variety of artists I’ve mentioned here before. However, with the shift in mainstream rap leading to less provocative, more violent artists offering less creative, more misogynistic music, I began to shift away from the genre. Plus, I was beginning to finally feel the flannel pull. By my freshman year of college, I was well into alternative music…not to mention that strange interlude I had with country music (that I admittedly still slightly cling to through my continued love of Terri Clark and the Dixie Chicks in all their iterations).
Second reason I chose Very Necessary is because it was pretty much the soundtrack of my final year of high school…at least the commuting part. My little nerdly Chevette had a tape deck that fed into the tiniest, tinniest speakers you could possibly imagine. Seriously, I’m willing to bet that some of you have better speakers on your smartphones than my little Chevette had. Still, it was sound. Sound of any kind was good. And so I dubbed several of my favorite CDs onto tapes (Memorex, natch) and would listen to them during my 15-minute drive from home to school, always being sure to eject the tape and turn off the radio before I pulled into the parking lot. Remember, I went to a religious school and I highly doubt they would have been grooved by such lyrical scripture as:
You couldn’t hump me if my first name was Cooty Cat
Your little jimmy can’t even hold your zipper back
Call me crazy, but I think that would have landed me in the pastor’s office faster than that short dress I wore for my junior year picture day…but that’s another story for another time.
And, yes, Salt-N-Pepa’s lyrics were profane, sexual, sensual, and sometimes just downright naughty. One of the things that I love about their lyrics, though, is that, while they were sexual, they always conveyed a sense of female strength and resiliency and self-respect (although, admittedly, I’m not going to be picking any of those songs here…they’re more from earlier albums…sorry). However, they also weren’t always what we would now call “PC.” For example, in “Shoop,” their second biggest hit from this album, guest rapper Big ‘Twan says “Twelve inches to a yard and have you sounding like a retard” during his interlude. Even back in the day, this bit caused problems and most radio stations would bleep out the word “retard.” (Never mind the physical impossibility of the lyric anyway…a yard? Really? 36 inches? Right.) It’s a shame that they included Big ‘Twan at all in this song, which is one of my favorites (and also one that I can still rap in its entirety, either with or without rum accompaniment…although I have been told that “with rum” is a more entertaining delivery).
One of the other standouts from this album isn’t actually a song. It’s a public service announcement that the group included, inspired by Sandra “Pepa” Denton’s and Deidra “Spinderella” Roper’s work with HIV/AIDS awareness groups. The PSA, “I’ve Got AIDS” is the last track on the album. Listening to it now shows how far we have come in our understanding of the disease as well as how far medicine has come in controlling the virus and how much closer we are to finding a cure. Back then, though, it was something groundbreaking and, in some ways, controversial, to have these mainstream rappers giving time and space on their album to a PSA about what had for years been called “gay cancer.” Instead, Salt-N-Pepa were telling their fans, this is happening to all of us and it’s not going to stop until we’re all aware and looking for ways to prevent it and ways to cure it.
Oh, and for the record, the biggest hit not only of this album but probably also of their career was their duet with En Vogue, “Whatta Man.” Ironically, it’s one of my least favorite songs…but one that I still will stop to listen to if I hear it on the radio. Why don’t we just take a little break right now and listen to it, eh?
And, of course, I’m going to leave “Shoop” right here…
And, as a bonus, I’m just going to leave this here, too. If you know me at all, denizens, you’ll understand…