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Gotti’s Way vs. The Salt N Pepa Show

Since Flava Flav brought hip-hop personality to VH1 in 2004, the adult contemporary video network-turned-reality TV haven has cultivated an ensemble cast of rappers throughout the seasons of the Surreal Life and Celebrity Fit Club. Now, forgoing the staged competition route, VH1 has created two straight-forward docu-dramas about the lives of hip-hop celebrities. Both are centered around an uphill battle—Can rap pioneers Salt N Pepa put their differences aside after all these years in The Salt N Pepa Show? Can Irv Gotti rebuild his Murder Inc. empire and maneuver his complicated family life on Gotti’s Way? After both shows premiered last night (October 15), the pressure is on.

Salt N Pepa, which kicked off the Tuesday night lineup, begins after the ladies get an invitation by Shaq to perform a song at his birthday party. Salt and Pepa speak occasionally, but haven’t performed together since their breakup in the ’90s. The tension here is clear: Salt found God and settled down, Pepa is still…well, Pepa. After a struggle that consists mostly of Salt trying to get Pepa to tone down their act (Pepa’s only insistence: change the “Whatta Man” lyric from “A body like Arnold” to “A body like Barak”), they finally end up performing at Salt’s church instead of Shaq’s party (he canceled, apparently). Oh, and they change all the lyrics of “Whatta Man” to be about Jesus.

The good girl vs. bad girl dynamic they try to set up throughout the show seems like it should be good TV, but ultimately, it feels forced. While Salt has the righteous thing down pat, Pepa isn’t quite the wild child Salt (or the producers) makes her out to be. But overall, the reunion feels forced because neither of them seems to want to be there very much. Salt doesn’t seem to enjoy rapping at all anymore, and Pepa seems like shes just along for the ride. After watching the pilot, one can’t help but think: if there were no cameras, would either Salt or Pepa still be pushing this reunion? Probably not.

On the other hand, Irv Gotti’s series Gotti’s Way benefits from the record executive’s unbridled enthusiasm and unapologetically exposed personal life. Gotti seems completely focused on trying to bring back Murder Inc., and Ja Rule is the centerpiece of his plan. The premiere episode is entitled “Get A Hit,” which is also the advice that Russell Simmons gives Irv at an inspirational lunch meeting. Gotti spends a lot of time meeting with Ja at the studio, lecturing him about the importance of finding that one hit song. In one of the best scenes, Irv argues with Ja about why it’s not smart for him to just start leaking music to the people. Ja’s candid defense: “Everybody’s doing it!”

Whether or not you’re a fan of the music, the heart of Gotti’s show lies in his unexpectedly nuanced relationship with his semi-estranged wife Deb (they live separately, talk about being “friends,” yet they are still technically married). Clearly they’re committed to each other on some level, especially because of their two children, but Irv seems unable to not cheat on her. “I sleep mostly on the couch,” says Irv at one point. “I don’t sleep with Deb because that’s weird.” While Salt N Pepa seems destined for a season full of predictable, camera-ready tensions, Gotti’s Way—with Irv at a truly uncertain point in his career and life—could be one of the network’s most compelling series.

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