She is the DJ who almost wasn't.
Nearly three decades ago, as thousands of upstate New York concert goers looked on, Deidra Roper, a teenager from Brooklyn's Pink House projects, dropped the ball.
It was her first night on the gig as DJ for a budding female rap group called Salt-N-Pepa. Cheryl "Salt" James and Sandra "Pepa" Denton were just as mortified as the audience. Silence.
"The first night was horrifying because I didn't know what I was getting myself into," said Roper, now known to the world as DJ Spinderella. "I was supposed to drop the needle after an a capella intro for the song 'I Desire,' but I had serious deer-in-the- headlight syndrome at that moment. All I had to do was drop the needle on the record, the easiest thing to do - and I just froze."
Fellow tour mates Heavy D & the Boyz and the Fat Boys laughed at the rookie DJ's mistake. Roper's thought her first day would also be her last. She wanted to quit and go back to Brooklyn to the safety of her parents and five siblings, but the future Queens of Rap were not having it.
"The girls . . . brought those turntables into the hotel rooms and I just rehearsed over and over until I was comfortable," she said. "It never happened after that."
As a member of Salt-N-Pepa, Roper would go on to snag MTV and Grammy awards and sell more than 14 million albums worldwide, with such monster hits as "What a Man," "Shoop," and "Push It."
And, on Friday, DJ Spinderella, now arguably one of the world's most famous female DJs, will be putting on for Philadelphia at the 20th anniversary fund-raiser for the Youth Health Empowerment Project at Moore College of Art. The 1990s-themed event is being presented by Philadelphia Fight, a Center City-based health services organization that provides care, education and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS.
It is fitting that Roper was tapped to DJ the event, as Salt-N-Pepa were artistic pioneers for that very cause.
"One of our records, 'Let's Talk About Sex,' was turned into a PSA, 'Let's Talk About AIDS,' during a time when the movement to fight the disease" was becoming known, Roper recalled of the 1991 campaign. "We brought awareness to this crisis with our music by making noise about it wherever we went."
Roper, 43, and mother to daughter Christy, a recent Hofstra University graduate, has achieved many milestones since a high school sweetheart, a Brooklyn DJ named A.D., pulled her into the game. She carried crates of records for him and studied his technique. Thriving in a testosterone-fueled industry is an achievement by itself.
"In the beginning, I had naysayers who were, like, 'She can't DJ, she's just cute and it's all about what she looks like,' and they wanted to battle me, but it never really affected me," said Roper, who counts DJ Scratch and Philly's own DJ Jazzy Jeff among her all-time favorites. "My battle was with myself, to keep getting better."
Recently, due in part to the popularity of their commercial for Geico that aired during the Super Bowl, Roper says the group is now recognized by a much younger following. With so many historical notches on their belts, what else could the trio of pioneers hope to achieve?
"I have this feeling that because of the influence we have had in music, we'll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the near future," she said. "I have a spot picked out in a specific house that I don't even own yet for that award."
DJ Spinderella at Y-HEP 20th Anniversary
7 to 11 p.m. Friday at Moore College of Art, 1916 Race St.