Pepa

Turning 37 today is Sandy Denton, better known as the Pepa in Salt-n-Pepa, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Salt-n-Pepa were one of the first rap acts to cross over onto the pop chart and are one of the few in which all members are women.

Along with Cheryl "Salt" James, Denton was working at a Sears store in Queens, N.Y., when they were asked by James' boyfriend, Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, to rap on a song for his audio production class at New York City's Center for Media Arts. The trio wrote the track "The Show Stoppa" in answer to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's "The Show." They released the song, which became a minor R&B hit in 1985, under the band name Super Nature.

James and Denton soon renamed their duo Salt-n-Pepa (after a line in "The Show Stoppa") and were signed by the independent rap label Next Plateau, with Azor as their manager. The duo's 1986 Azor-produced debut, Hot, Cool & Vicious, established the Salt-n-Pepa sound: party and love lyrics, usually pro-feminist, set to big beats. The album yielded three minor hits: "My Mike Sounds Nice," "Chick on the Side" and "Tramp," before a remix of "Push It," the B-side of "Tramp," went to #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles pop chart in 1988. The cut became one of the first rap records to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

DJ Spinderella (Deidre "Dee Dee" Roper) joined the duo before their second LP, A Salt with a Deadly Pepa (1988). The disc was less successful than their first, but produced the top-10 R&B hit "Shake Your Thang."

Blacks' Magic (1990), which dealt with racial pride, was a critical and commercial smash. It spawned "Expression," which went gold before even hitting the pop chart, and the top-20 pop smash "Let's Talk About Sex." The latter was also re-recorded as "Let's Talk About AIDS" to aid AIDS-relief safe-sex programs. All proceeds from both the video and the single were donated to the National Minority AIDS Council and the TJ Martell Foundation for AIDS Research.

Before the release of 1993's Very Necessary, Salt-n-Pepa split from Azor and switched to London/Polygram Records. Their new music was more sophisticated but still maintained the artists' tough edge. The LP and the single "Shoop" both went top five on the pop charts. In addition, "Whatta Man," a duet with En Vogue, was a #3 pop and R&B smash. "None of Your Business," the album's last single, won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1995.

Both Salt and Pepa have been concentrating on acting and appeared in the 1993 film "Who's the Man." Last year, they issued Brand New, with contributions from Sheryl Crow, Queen Latifah and Kirk Franklin.

Early in 1998, Salt-n-Pepa were honored by Rock the Vote for their efforts to promote safe sex and for working to help teen-age mothers in Harlem, N.Y.

In May, Salt-n-Pepa performed at the Second Annual Haitian Benefit for the Wyclef Jean Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to promoting self-empowerment to minority communities throughout the world.

Other birthdays: Lee Anthony Graziano (American Breed), 55; Joe Bauchard (Blue Oyster

Cult), 50; Demetra Plakas (L7), 38; Ted Ansani (Material Issue), 31;

Texas Scarface (Geto Boys), 29; and Tom Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater

Revival), 1941-1990.