CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
By the end of the 1980s, Salt-N-Pepa had been enjoying consistent commercial success. Their debut album, Hot, Cool and Vicious was a platinum-seller thanks to the monster dance hit "Push It;" and the follow-up, A Salt With A Deadly Pepa had gone gold. But Salt, Pep and DJ Spinderella were also finding themselves targeted by Hip-Hop "purists" who thought the girls were sellouts who made campy pop records.
On their third album, Salt-N-Pepa decided to up the ante. And, especially in the case of Salt, they decided to take creative control. Having split from her boyfriend, Salt-N-Pepa producer Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, Salt decided she wanted to control the voice of the album herself. Pepa followed suit, and the result was Salt-N-Pepa's best album. Blacks' Magic finds the group finding itself, with a distinct voice all their own and those ever-present catchy hooks still intact.
Stereo Williams and Angie C look back at Salt-N-Pepa's creative leap forward on their third album, Blacks' Magic.
Angie C.: Nobody ever says so, but this is one of the greatest opening tracks of all time. The hook is great, the song opens great -- it might be my favorite SNP song, period.
Stereo: It's a great song that I've always loved. Jacci McGee kills the vocals and knowing that Salt produced the track herself makes me love it even more. Super infectious shit right here.
Doper Than Dope
Stereo: "Nautilus" by Bob James has been flipped a bajillion ways and this is one of the lesser-known examples. Hurby "Luv Bug" channeled it in the same way RZA would later on with Ghost's "Daytona 500."
Angie C: Exactly. "Nautilus" was the foundation for Run-D.M.C.'s song "Beats To the Rhyme" before this, yeah? But I don't think anyone flipped this section of the song before Hurby did it here.
Negro Wit' an Ego
Stereo: Blacks' Magic really opens strong as hell. A topical track that features the ladies declaring their position but also dismissing any idea that a Black woman speaking her mind is a threat to anything except racism and sexism.
Angie C: Yeah, this is on some "fuck you, I'm me" shit. And the "put some faith in your race" hook is really something. It shows that they're speaking to white people about their racism and speaking to Black people about self-love. The kind of song that's always pertinent.
You Showed Me
Angie C: So I heard Blacks' Magic years after it had been out, but this and "Let's Talk About Sex" were two songs I'd heard. This was the first track I was familiar with because my mother played it all the time after she split from her fiance in the 1990s. True story.
Stereo: Seems appropriate! 60s rock still loomed large over the late 1980s, early 1990s. It's interesting how many of those hits are referenced in Hip-Hop; and this is one of the best examples. SNP updated an old hit by The Turtles and it became a medium sized hit for them. One of their more underrated singles, I think.
Do You Want Me
Stereo: My all-time favorite Salt-N-Pepa single! This video got played round-the-clock on MTV back in 1990/91, and it's just a crazy catchy song. Hurby and Salt (I think they co-produced it) had musical chemistry that's most apparent to me on this album.
Angie C: Love, love, LOVE this! But where is Pepa? It's essentially a solo Salt track.
Stereo: One thing I love about golden age rap albums is the tracks where emcees just like to showcase wordplay. This is one of those songs. It's also another song where Salt goes solo-dolo.
Angie C.: She was in her bag on this one! "The ebony queens are back on the scene, I assume you still suck like a vacuum machine!" "The furious females you gotta fuck with!" "The star of every male's fantasy or wet dream!" Get 'em, Salt!
I Like To Party
Angie C: This is the only track on the album that I would call filler.
Stereo: Really? I actually love this song LOL I like the Dexter Wansel sample. It's a fun record that isn't trying too hard.
Stereo: It's a shame that more people don't really delve into Salt-N-Pepa album cuts, because this is one of their best songs. It really ties together and explains the album title. I think Spin produced this and Salt really digs in on the verses. The whole thing is about the greatness of Blackness.
Angie C: The connection between music and mysticism is really fucking dope. One of the clearest examples of how much they'd grown as artists. Salt breaks down the racism of "black" as a pejorative.
Start The Party
Stereo: This feels almost like a throwback track; it's a song on the album that sounds most like the kind of songs they'd made on their first two albums. Fun song, but one of the album's weaker moments.
Angie C: It is a fun song and yeah--I feel you on it feeling like earlier Salt-N-Pepa tracks. It sounds like maybe something they'd had in the can and just decided to put out here. But I love the MC Hammer reference.
Let's Talk About Sex
Stereo: This song was inescapable in the early 1990s. I don't think it was released as a single until towards the end of Blacks' Magic's run, which put it right around the time of Magic Johnson's HIV announcement. They dropped "Let's Talk About AIDS" soon after.
Angie C: It's such a time capsule. Even though I mostly missed Blacks' Magic-era SNP, I knew this song because it was one of the most played songs of the early 1990s. And there were about a hundred remixes! Every video was like a different damn version!
I Don't Know feat. Kid 'n Play
Angie C: Kid 'n Play! I love that they show up on this track. The two groups have great chemistry and I had the biggest crush on Play. This is all fam -- Hurby's "Idol Makers" in the house!
Stereo: It's a great track where Spin rhymes a bit and she gets to trade bars with Kid. This is such an underrated song and it's crazy that there wasn't a video. Also: perfect Meters sample.
Live and Let Die
Stereo: I know I can harp on samples, but that Earth, Wind & Fire "Shining Star" sample is inspired. Salt, Pep and Spin again all make themselves heard on this one. Nope, this track has nothing to do with Guns 'N Roses or Paul McCartney.
Angie C: This is another song with a message that I love. Don't waste your breath trying to change peoples' minds when you can just focus on getting them the hell outta your way.
Stereo: This is another single that kind of got slept on. It wasn't as big as "Let's Talk About Sex" or "Expression," but I think it's another winner from Salt. This track is clearly a shot at Hurby. And shout-out to Sybil.
Angie C: I like it, but I don't love it. I wish the hook wasn't so on-the-nose and I wish the beat didn't sound like a retread of "Expression." But I love the message. It's kind of the theme and spirit of the whole album.
Label: Next Plateau
Producer: Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, The Invincibles, Salt-N-Pepa