Salt-N-Pepa Accept “VH1 Hip Hop Honors” Tribute, Acknowledge AIDS Activism

Let's talk about sex, baby.

When Salt-n-Pep released “Let’s Talk About Sex” in 1991, America was just beginning the conversation about HIV.

salt n pepa lets talk about sex

The song, a worldwide hit, encouraged listeners not just to be direct about their desires, but to acknowledge the risks and consequences of being intimate—pregnancy, STIs, and, yes, AIDS.


An alternate version of the song entitled “Let’s Talk About AIDS” was also released, with lyrics that more directly addressed the epidemic and how to prevent the virus’ spread. (In one version of the song’s video, a skeleton is shown after the word “AIDS,” with “censored” stamped on his mouth.)


For a mainstream music act to discuss condoms and AIDS in the early 1990s was groundbreaking—and life-saving.

Last night at VH1 Hip Hop Honors, Salt-n-Pepa, a.k.a. Cheryl James and Sandra Denton, were honored alongside DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper) for 30 years of music and breaking barriers.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 11:  DJ Spinderella and Cheryl 'Salt' James and Sandra 'Pepa' Denton of Salt-N-Pepa attend the 2016 VH1 Hip Hop Honors: All Hail The Queens at Hammerstein Ballroom on July 11, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

The ladies thanked their fans at the ceremony, and Denton addressed the impact “Let’s Talk About Sex” had.

“Hip Hop allowed me to become an activist—because with these two queens I didn’t only say ’Let’s talk about sex,’ I said ’let’s talk about AIDS.”

“And there ain’t nothing changed today,” she added. “Protect yourself and put yourself first.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.