Coming 2 America is rooted in Black joy, so it was only right it gathered a few legends to celebrate. The sequel (which premiered on Amazon Prime earlier this month) takes place after Eddie Murphy’s 1988 classic, and features a mix of the iconic original cast and a few new faces — including Murphy (also a co-producer), Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, Teyana Taylor, Wesley Snipes, Nomzamo Mbatha, and James Earl Jones.
To help level up the momentous occasion, director Craig Brewer added in a few surprises for returning audiences. The best of them all? King Jaffe’s (played by Jones) funeral transforms into an old-school party with cameos from En Vogue, Gladys Knight, and Salt-N-Pepa. “Craig was like, ‘This gotta be a secret! You can’t tell anybody!’” Pepa said of her appearance, which she kept hidden for a year. “Man, listen, I couldn’t even tell any of my big-mouth family members.”
The rapper (born Sandra Denton) is a Queens native, the same borough in which both the original and sequel are set, so Pepa says being part of Coming 2 America decades after getting her first apartment in Jamaica Estates was an honor — and joining En Vogue to perform 1993’s “Whatta Man” was an extra bonus. “We gravitated towards each other backstage and were in our own little corner,” Pepa said. “It’s always a good time when we link up with them. I hope we get to hit the road soon once all of this clears up.”
Recently, Pepa hopped on a call with Vulture to discuss Coming 2 America’s fun experience.
Do you remember the first time you watched Coming to America?
[Salt-N-Pepa] came out in ’86 and Coming to America came out in ’88. It just represented where we were from. Rewatching it now brings back so many memories. From the whole energy at the barbershop to the “If you’re a prince, I’ll marry you” [scene]. I thought the concept was brilliant with Eddie Murphy coming to the hood as a royal. Now with Coming 2 America, I loved watching Leslie Jones. She was hilarious!
I think Leslie Jones and Wesley Snipes stole the show.
I’m telling you! [They were] amazing. I know Wesley can do what he do, but I didn’t expect that! And Leslie [saying in the movie], “Y’all know I was a hoe, right?” It was so funny. I loved that they brought back a lot of the old cast and had a lot of female empowerment. They went with the times, you know? I enjoyed what the movie was trying to do overall, just showing family, love, and how you create the rules. I liked the lessons.
Coming 2 America had so many feel-good moments, so I’m curious: What was the energy on set this time?
The vibe was very protected and secure because it was such a big secret. And I get it. Now we have all this technology and things leaking all the time. So for this movie, they [told us]: “No phones, no pictures, no anything.” So we got ready to film in Atlanta at Tyler Perry’s studio. This is the street in me: We done told all the family members, all the kids, that they were all gonna meet Eddie [Murphy]. [Laughs] When the [producers] saw the list, they said, “No, I’m sorry.”
But the day on set when we actually shot our part, it was pouring rain. Everybody was in their trailers. So it was difficult to get to Eddie on that day. I didn’t get that Coming 2 America picture that I see on Instagram with other cast members. But I got to meet him [later on] and it was an honor. We were bumping into other cast members on set. We got bits and pieces of what the movie was going to be like, but [the team] had it under lock and key. Just seeing the costumes and the set … I was like, “I’m really in Zamunda, you can’t tell me anything!”
Did the director ask you to rework “Whatta Man”?
Them changing “Whatta Man” to “Whatta King” was fun. They came up with the whole concept. They rewrote our original lyrics and asked us to record. It was brilliant. And of course, being with our sisters En Vogue is always a pleasure. Up until COVID, we did shows and tours together. I remember we were all on set and they were like, “Girl, it’s so hard to walk!” You know for us girls when you have those heels on, and we kept shooting different cuts. Those dresses were tailored down, like a mermaid. I was just in awe of everyone’s outfits. There was a lot of work put into it.
“Whatta Man” is nearly 30 years old and still remains a timeless classic. Why do you think it’s stood the test of time?
This is still such a male-dominated field and world, and we give men a rough time. By all means, a lot of it is warranted. But [the song] is also a reminder that there are good men in the world. Those who we’ve lost, those on the frontlines, family heroes, those who march for their communities. “Whatta Man” is saying they still exist. I like to always celebrate the good men: your father, brother, teacher, mentor.
For your celebration of life, which artists would you choose to perform?
I love my RiRi! But hip-hop wise, there’s too many. I’d mix them all up: City Girls, Megan [Thee Stallion], Missy Elliott. Missy is my girl, so she’s definitely gotta be in it. She will bring the party.
We went through a hard time last year as a community, so this film brought some needed Black joy. What did you get out of watching it after you’d filmed?
Timing is everything. Family is our home and we get to see that. It’s a big reminder and I enjoyed the message. My daughter Egypt and I watched it together and we laughed the whole time. It’s a good family movie.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.