Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Salt N Pepa

I had a lovely phone chat last week with Cheryl James Wray, the Salt of Salt N Pepa, the wildly popular female rap duo. We spoke about her hot new show on VH1, but mostly we talked about her Christian faith, which has been deepening over the last several years.

In case you don’t know about Salt N Pepa, and I confess I didn’t, let me fill you in. They were the first female rap act to have gold, platinum, or multi-platinum albums, and although they were inactive for the five years prior to the launch of their new show last month, they were still the best selling female rap act in history. They disbanded in 2002 because Cheryl had grown tired of the music business after a 17-year run. She also questioned whether, having devoted herself to her faith, she should still be singing the same provocative songs with their sexual innuendo.

“There’s so much negativity in the music industry,” she told me. “That’s so much more popular than being responsible. People don’t understand if they haven’t transformed their lives.”

But transformation is just what she needed, she says.

“The reason I left was that I was sick. I had unresolved issues from childhood that were eating me up. My career became my god. I was pursuing everything but God.”

One of the ways this manifested was in bulimia, acerbated by the need to be thin for public appearances and all the wear and tear of traveling and performing.

“I came to a place I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to step away to find out who I was under the image I had created. I asked God what I had to do to be healed. It was a revelation moment.”

I asked Cheryl, now 41, what made her turn to God and she quoted the old saying about no atheists in a foxhole. “It’s innate,” she said. “It’s in us to call out to God when we’re desperate. A lot of Christians try to act like they’re not suffering, but I still suffer. It’s just before it would be a downward spiral. You have to do the work, to pursue God daily to be healed.”

So in 2000 she joined a Bible study and a “word-based church.”

“I grew up in church. I always believed, I just never knew I had to have a relationship with God.”

Through the years that followed, as “a suburban soccer mom” on Long Island, and now with developing the new show, she continues to work on this relationship.

“Change is not an event,” she says. “It’s a process. It’s a daily challenge to have convictions.”

This effort becomes part of “The Salt N Pepa Show,” a “reality” program in which Cheryl and Sandra Denton (Pepa), work out there relationship, which suffered after Cheryl decided to quit the business and Sandy took it personally, Cheryl says. Now the relationship is getting back on track.

Although it appears they are “total opposites,” much of that is just a pretense for the show, Cheryl says. “She does have her convictions. Pep is at Bible study every other Tuesday. She’s studying the word in a way she comprehends and is not threatening.”

And while Cheryl has led Sandy to Bible study, it seems they are really helping each other. “Pep is teaching me patience,” Cheryl says. “She’s stretching me and pulling me out of my comfort zone.”

She’s also helping Cheryl discern whether she should again sing the songs she sang before. “I’m uncomfortable with some of the words and lyrics, but I haven’t closed the door. I haven’t figured out how to make it valuable. I’m not confident to do it now.”

But she does realize she can influence more people through her high-profile role as an artist.

“I’ve definitely been appointed. I might not reach everybody, but I can reach certain people. Pep pulled me out of my box. She said, ‘If you think you’ve got a message, you’ve got to be out there.’”

“The Salt N Pepa Show” is on VH1 Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 9 p.m. Central time. (The posted photo features Cheryl on the left and Sandy on the right.)

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