When Cheryl James abruptly abandoned her red-hot career as "Salt" of the hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa and became a Christian, she also shattered her relationship with partner Sandra "Pepa" Denton.
Ten years after drifting away from the band, James, 43, is trying to be true to both faith and friendship by reconciling with Denton in the VH1 reality show The Salt-N-Pepa Show (Mondays at 10 PM EST).
"Kids look at (fame) and all they see is the glamour," James said in an interview from New York recently, "but there's a dark side."
When Salt-N-Pepa first hit the airwaves in 1985, 20-year-old James reveled in the freedom to make music she loved. "I found something that made me excited and something to be passionate about," she said.
Her passion paid off. Salt-N-Pepa, with aggressive, often raunchy lyrics ("Let's talk about sex, baby"), was the first female group to conquer the hip-hop genre. They won a Grammy, scaled the charts, and released five albums.
Their most popular songs ("Push It," "Shake Your Thang," "Whatta Man," and "Shoop") featured catchy rhythms and get-stuck-in-your-head lyrics that remain some of the most popular dance songs from the late '80s and early '90s.
"S-n-P brought female empowerment to the forefront," says Andrew Ryan, an adjunct professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who teaches courses on hip-hop and is executive director of the online site The Journal of Hip-Hop. "Their music spoke directly to women."
However, even as her on-stage career exploded, James began to find her backstage reality oppressive. The busy schedule left no time for relaxation or reflection. She felt suffocated by the demands of people who relied on her for their livelihoods, and the pressure to be thin pushed her weight worries ...1