In 1994, Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton released the music video for their En Vogue-assisted single, “Whatta Man.” Pepa’s love interest was played by Treach of Naughty by Nature — showcasing their real life romantic relationship — while Salt’s sultry clip featured a faceless, bandana-clad person.
Eagle-eyed fans recognized the "Thug Life" tattoo on his belly. People started to whisper about a certain notorious rap star in the sexy video.
Fans know that was Tupac Shakur in Salt’s bed. Due to label pressure, the group was forced to minimize Shakur’s prominence in the video because of his ongoing legal troubles which had plagued his post-2Pacalypse Now career.
On February 8, 1995, Shakur was sentenced to 1.5-4.5 years in prison for his role in the sexual assault of a 20-year-old woman at the upscale Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. As he tearfully apologized to his victim, he said that he had committed no crime, and was placing his faith in a higher power.
"I've been shot five times and He's brought me this far," Shakur told The New York Times. "I put my faith in God. Once again, I have no shame. What happens, happens for a reason. I leave this in the hands of God.”
After Shakur was sent to Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, Salt made it a point to write her friend in an attempt to keep his spirits up.
“When he went to jail — me being a Christian — I wrote him letters about my faith to encourage him and also to let him know what kept me going in hard times,” Salt says.
“He felt like the whole world was turning against him and he was unjustly in prison. I told him that he could turn away from negativity and turn away from sin. He could have this new relationship directly with God.”
Salt recalls that the letters she received back were about how much he appreciated her taking the time, how proud he was of their accomplishments as a group, and how he had dedicated “Keep Ya Head Up" to Salt’s daughter, Corin.
She also sent him books that had helped her more deeply understand her own faith. He eventually wrote back that he had read them and had started reading both the Quran and the Bible in an attempt to understand his own interpretation of “faith.”
“He has his own brand or idea of God,” Salt says.
In addition to the letters, Salt received a poem titled “4 What it’z Worth.” The content references his own upbringing in New York City, being shot 5 times, and a universal resiliency that people share after enduring hard times.
On October 12, 1995, Shakur was released from Clinton Correctional Facility. Less than a year later, he’d be gone forever.