Along with the Superlounges, New & Next, and main stage inside the Superdome, this year’s Essence Festival offers up the Block Party in Champions Square. Emceed by the “Original Human Beat Box,” Doug E. Fresh, the free shows include a Saturday set from Deidra Muriel Roper a.k.a. Spinderella.
As the DJ for the groundbreaking group Salt-n-Pepa, Spin played a unique role in the evolution of an art form. Tracks like “Let’s Talk About Sex”, “Whatta Man”, and “Shoop” expanded the discourse and established the trio as the first female rap act to go platinum. Though not currently touring with Salt-n-Pepa, Spin remains an in-demand DJ, an ambassador for hip-hop’s classic era, and a strong voice in the fight against diabetes. She spoke to OffBeat from her home in Dallas.
Essence CEO Michelle Ebanks is a strong female voice in the business world, in some ways like Salt-N-Pepa during the golden era of hip-hop. What was it like as female artists in such a male-dominated environment?
It was fun, we had our fun. There were a lot of people that were really listening to us, and inspired by us, so we wanted to make sure we put the message in our music. We had a responsibility. Artists don’t come in thinking that they’ll be role models, but it’s something we wanted to do. That’s why so many women revere us, because we did it without fear. We spoke on behalf of our generation.
Are there young female performers in whom you see that influence?
Hmm. Everybody does them. I know we had impact with artists like TLC, even Destiny’s Child, groups that came after us. We saw what they were doing. They had messages in their music, so maybe we did make an impact.
You definitely had a big impact in New Orleans with the song “I’ll Take Your Man”. Do you remember anything about the creation of that song?
That was our producer at that time, Hurby Luv Bug. A lot of our music was influenced by the sound of go-go, and a lot of classic soul, James Brown, Pointer Sisters. And we had that bounce in there. But you’d have to ask Hurby about that track.
Have you ever played that track in New Orleans?
Yeah, I play that in my sets still.
I know DJs down here who say that if you play that track to women of a certain age, they just flip out.
As a matter of fact, Mia X sent a tweet out recently, requesting it. And she said that was one of her favorite songs. It’s good to know that they still love that.
You’re going to be there with Doug E. Fresh. Do you remember first meeting him?
Doug E. is the reason why Spinderella’s even here. Salt-n-Pepa did an answer track to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s track “The Show,” and Salt-N-Pepa did a track called “The Showstopper,” that was their first single, and that song basically introduced the world to Salt-N-Pepa. So I owe my being here to their idea of “The Show,” which is one of the great, classic hip-hop tracks. We talk about that all the time. He’s such a talented entertainer.
That was such a classic period. Was there a moment, maybe a performance, when it dawned on you that hip-hop had really made it big?
It’s a surreal feeling. I don’t know if you even recall the moments when you were in the middle of it. You were living it, and you were like, “Oh my god, life is great! I don’t care that we’re broke, don’t care if there’s no such thing as a cellphone!” Just being on the tour bus with Heavy D and the Boyz, Kid ‘N Play. Standing on the side of the stage watching Hammer, witnessing Run DMC perform, watching LL. Those moments are surreal. The feeling, we try to capture that again and we do when we’re on stage, Salt-n-Pepa. I hope one day me and the girls can come back together and make that magic happen. We’ve been talking about it. We’ll see.
You’re willing to go back out on the road if things are set up right?
Definitely. It’s really not about us, it’s about the fans, and we have to learn to put those issues aside and not keep the fans out of something they deserve. They put us there and we still love each other, we just went in separate ways. Those things need to be worked out, but we’re in discussion about it.
How many DJ gigs do you do a year?
A lot, and I’m thankful for that. I think the DJ world is growing. I try to push the foundations, what we grew up on. I know we’re in the age of technology, we’re embracing it, we love it. But the original needs to be kept out front. True hip-hop heads love the old breaks and soul, R&B and funk, house.
Do you think something’s lost in that technological advancement, as far as skill sets or the way people generated music through two turntables and a mixer?
Technology makes it all easier and you cannot discount what it’s become. We’ve taken advantage of it, but everything’s so fast. “I don’t need to learn the foundation, all I need is the controller and a computer and speakers and we’re good.” The hard part is learning the history. Don’t call it hip-hop if you don’t know the foundation. It’s a labor of love for our culture, for the legends that came before us. We should embrace that. But you can’t blame the next generation because they don’t know. Unless you’re teaching them what it was.
Who are the DJs you revere?
Jazzy Jeff, DJ Scratch, my favorite. The ones who rocked the party. Kid Capri, relevant back then and today. The ones who can make the crowd move and change your mood. And those who maintain longevity. They love what they do, no matter what, and that’s what I’m down for.
You mention longevity. What do you think are the keys artistically, but also the physical or professional responsibilities that go along with that?
Staying passionate, and being able to change with the times. To be able to maintain and maneuver. And know how to start over. Sometimes it’s about starting over. And as far as business goes, really creating a brand for yourself. It’s foolish to depend on record labels or radio, you have to do all of that yourself. It’s about creating that environment. Passion, creating that brand, and reinventing yourself over and over again.
It seems like there’s an appetite for old-school hip-hop right now. Obviously, that generation is older and can now afford to pay for these shows. But do you think any of it is a reaction to newer music, that people want to get back to the basics?
Definitely. What the music has become is like—not all music—but everything we’re hearing, it’s a uniform sound, everyone’s going for that one kind of song. What’s lacking is variety. People are called back to the original. And sometimes you just want to go back to when things were great. When I was in love, when it wasn’t about this or that, but about fun, and all that plays a part.
You’re really active in the fight against diabetes. What progress has been made in the last few years, and what still needs to be done?
My involvement with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is fairly new. It runs through my family. When my mom passed, I wished I could’ve had more info about it to help her. My mom would faint, her sugar would drop, she’d be in the hospital, she couldn’t get it together and I felt helpless. You might be diabetic, sometimes doctors don’t tell you. It’s not a death sentence. It can be a healthier life sentence, changing the patterns of what you would normally eat. That’s the information I share, and diabetes.org has a wealth of information. Facts, information, the 411 on being proactive.
What can people at Essence expect from you musically?
A whole lot of fun. What I like to do is bring them in with the sing-along classics, and then I turn it into old-school, funk, R&B, classic hip-hop. For the most part, they really enjoy it, but I probably enjoy it more than they do. I am excited, I can’t wait to see y’all. We’re gonna have a blast.
UPDATE, 7/11/12, 1:45 P.M.: The article originally stated incorrectly that the Salt-N-Pepa song “I’ll Take Your Man” included a sample of the Showboys’ “Drag Rap,” known as the “Triggerman” beat. That statement has been removed from the article.