Sandra "Pepa" Denton has been a longtime safe sex advocate and avid supporter of Lifebeat, an organization that works to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among America's youth. And now, Salt-N-Pepa have partnered with Lifebeat and Burton Snowboards to create a “Push It” women’s snowboard, which will hit stores in September. In honor of the collaboration, we caught up with the pioneering rapper to talk about her activism, Salt-N-Pepa's enduring impact on style and what she doesn't want to hear on a date.
When did you first start working with Lifebeat?
It's been over 20 years that we've been with Lifebeat. Salt-N-Pepa was always about getting the message out there. We did "Let's Talk About Sex" and then "Let's Talk About AIDS," so the relationship was a perfect fit.
What prompted you to get involved?
It affects all of us. Peter Jennings came to us and said to make a PSA, "Let's Talk About AIDS." But I was naive about how the virus is contracted, until Magic Johnson came out. I'd stereotyped it, thinking it was a gay disease, a white man’s disease. So when it kind of hit home and was close to us, it scared the hell out of everybody. I was growing up in a time where you never heard about it. Today, to still be involved, just looking at the numbers from ages 13 to 24, finding that they're still being diagnosed with the virus, is touching to me. I have a daughter that’s 14 and a son that's 22.
Are you a snowboarder?
I’m not, but my son is great at it. I tried snowboarding before and I suck at it. But this time, I think I have to get back on the slopes and even if I bust my butt, I'm doing it on my own board.
Did you work on the design of the Burton board yourself?
We collaborated on the design. The one that we did pick was perfect because everyone identified with that picture and "Push It" and that logo. We had a show the other day and these two little girls came to my concert, and they had on that hat and the bodysuit and the earrings and the jacket.
What impact do you think Salt-N-Pepa has had on style?
A lot. We had fashion errors that became hits. We were bold with our colors and tights and being very sexy and the assymmetrical hairstyle. That was an accident that happened -- my hair got shaved off on one side. I got a bad perm and had to shave it off on one side. And that became a big hit to this day, with a lot of people -- Rihanna, Cassie. People always say that’s the Salt-N-Pepa look.
Do you think there should be more socially conscious anthems today?
I think so. These stars, because they’re so huge, it wouldn't hurt them to throw one in. Kids listen to us more so than they would probably listen to their parents or their church or school, so being that we do have that platform, I think it is important.
What's the best sex or dating advice you've received?
My advice is listen carefully. When you keep ignoring these little signs. .. signs are important. They’ll bite you down the line, if you’re like “Hey, I’m having a fun date and I just kind of played it off.” That introduction is very important. Listen to the conversation, and if you see any flags go up. If I'm on a date now, anything that makes me go “hmm, I’m not sure,” I'm going to question it and say “Well, what do you mean by that?” I’m not just going to laugh it off.
What's your dating deal-breaker?
If I'm on a date, I don't want to talk business right away. Let it feel like a date. I don't want to talk about my job right then. Don't start asking me, "You know, I was thinking about getting into the business." Now I'm at a meeting! I’m not on a date. So, that’s my deal. Don’t start bringing “How can I help you help me?” and all this. I just want to eat ice cream, or talk and laugh. People say “So what do you do?” But in my case people know what I do, so it’s a no-no.
Do guys ever use “Let’s Talk About Sex” as a pickup line on you?
You know what, people have. I’ll just be walking down the street, and I’ll be honest -- it makes me blush. It makes me smile, because I think it’s cute. People have said that to me and I just turn around and smile. They know it’s not really going to go anywhere.
What did you think of Ellen DeGeneres' rendition of "Shoop"?
You know what? Ellen has done it, but I thought the greatest one was … what is her name? I call her "Fat Amy” [Rebel Wilson's character in 2012's "Pitch Perfect"].
Yes! That was, to me, the top. I love that. And I love that she was like, "I want to rap with Ellen" and Ellen was like, "Well the only song I know is 'Shoop.'" And they did it. She’s so funny -- I love her, me and my daughter. So I thought that was awesome. I was proud of that one.
Why do you think “Shoop” remains so popular?
When you ask myself or Salt, what song do you love performing, we both answer, at the same time, “Shoop.” It's just a fun, upbeat song. I think the lyrics are very edgy and women love it. Even the guys love it. I think because the song is so edgy and it takes control and it’s in-your-face kind of lyrics. For females to be saying those lyrics, it’s really fun.
It's been 20 years since your seminal 1993 album, "Very Necessary." What do you miss most about the '90s?
The '90s were so much fun. Touring was fun. It’s so serious now. When we were on tour, everybody was just hanging out in the hallway, all the acts together. Now everyone just goes their way. You perform, you leave. No one interacts. We do a lot of shows with people now and everyone’s just with their own crew, their own clique. Back then, everyone mingled together and it was a little bit more free and fun.
What newer artists do you think are most heavily influenced by Salt-N-Pepa?
I’ll always give it to my girl Missy [Elliott]. She just tweeted, "Thank you so much, Pepa. You opened the door for me." She’s always appreciated it. In her studio, she’s got a big Salt-N-Pepa mural of all of us, because we inspired her. And [Queen] Latifah always gave props. Lil' Kim always gave props. So I admire that, that they felt that way. And they still say it, to this day, they’ll tweet it.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I'm on a diet now, but I love vanilla ice cream, hot fudge with the nuts on top. That’s my downfall. I'm trying to create a "Push It" workout line. So I've been training. And I'm trying to fit the part, not just do it because I can. I've changed my eating habits. It’s hard but I feel better, lighter, more energy. I've seen the results, but dieting is hard and working out is hard. I envy the people who love it.
What's one item from the '80s or '90s that you wish you could wear now?
I just remember seeing myself in a cutoff shirt. That's what I'm working for. I'm working for that two-piece. I want that "Shoop" body back. I had a two-piece on in that video -- that’s what I'm working on.