This is based on a 1968 song called "What a Man" by the soul singer Linda Lyndell. The chord progressions, groove and "What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man" parts are all in Lyndell's original, which was a minor R&B hit. In Lydell's song, she sings about a man who thrills her - not only does he treat her right, he also knows the latest dance moves, including the Funky Broadway and the Tighten Up. Salt-N-Pepa's man is also a good one: smooth, generous and understanding.
In this song, Salt-N-Pepa celebrate the good men who are out there, and run down everything they like about him. Some key traits:
Secure in his manhood
Never disrespectful to women
Big bass voice
Spends time with his kids
The group had spent some time bashing men in previous songs, setting them strait on tracks like "Do You Want Me" and "Chick On The Side." This song takes a different perspective, making it clear they have nothing against men - especially good men.
This is one of those songs that expresses a distinctly female viewpoint but was written by a man: it was composed by their producer, Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor. The song on which it is based, "What a Man," was also written by a guy: Dave Crawford, who was a producer at Atlantic Records. Crawford, who died in 1988, is listed as a co-writer with Azor on "Whatta Man."
Since the vocalists in Salt-N-Pepa were rappers, not singer, the group En Vogue was brought in to perform on this track - the song is officially credited to "Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue."
The collaboration was very effective, as En Vogue provided the retro soul sound to accompany the '60s-based track. The group was coming off a string of hits from their 1992 Funky Divas album, and "Whatta Man" kept them, er, en vogue in 1994, as the track reached its US chart peak of #3 in February. En Vogue didn't release another album until 1997, when they returned with EV3.
The video was directed by Matthew Rolston, who also did En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and TLC's "Creep
." En Vogue appears in the video along with Salt-N-Pepa and a collection of guys representing the good men.
The girls got to pick their fantasy men to appear with them in the video. Salt's man is Tupac Shakur, who nearly missed the shoot because he shot two off-duty cops the day before (charges against him were dropped). At the time, Pepa was dating Treach (Anthony Criss) from Naughty by Nature, so he appears in the clip as her "mighty good man." The couple were later married, but divorced a few years later, with Pepa alleging he abused her.
The video won MTV Video Music Awards for Best Dance Video, Best R&B Video, and Best Choreography.
"Whatta Man" pops up in the darnedest places. It is used in the soundtrack to the 1996 Wes craven film Vampire in Brooklyn. Salt 'n' Pepa turned up in person at Wrestlemania XI to perform it for the match between Lawrence Taylor and Bam Bam Bigelow. It's also the theme for wrestler Jason Knight in Extreme Championship Wrestling. It's also referenced in an episode each of the TV shows 30 Rock and Sister, Sister. But fans of the TV medical drama house just know it as Gregory House's ring tone.
It was also used in the 2019 movie Captain Marvel and in episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Vampire Diaries, RuPaul's Drag Race, The X Factor and The King of Queens.
In the video, just after the line, "Never disrespectful 'cause his mama taught him that," it cuts to Pepa's young son, Tyran. He represents hope for men of the future.
There are some song references in the lyrics:
"He keeps me on Cloud Nine just like the Temps" refers to the 1968 hit by The Temptations, "Cloud Nine
"He knows that my name is not Susan" alludes to a Whitney Houston song called "My Name Is Not Susan," which hit #20 in 1991. That song is about a guy who calls his girl by the wrong name - likely the name of his mistress.
This featured in a 2016 commercial for the Hyundai Elantra that debuted during the Super Bowl that year. In the spot, two women are driving the vehicle through a town where every guy is Ryan Reynolds. When they get distracted and nearly hit one of the Ryans, the car's automatic braking system kicks in so they don't run him over.