Grunge. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the ’90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era—and why does it still matter? On our new show, 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s, Ringer music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla embarks on a quest to answer those questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. Below is an excerpt from Episode 23, which explores the Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” with help from The Ringer’s Logan Murdock and The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson.
The Luniz first rose to prominence in 1993, when they guest-starred alongside the rapper Dru Down on a song called “Ice Cream Man.” They aren’t selling ice cream, obviously. This was three years before Master P had a big song called “Mr. Ice Cream Man” on a big album called Ice Cream Man. Master P had moved from his native New Orleans to Richmond, California, 20 minutes’ drive or so north of Oakland; Master P would eventually move back home, in this case back to New Orleans. Dru Down and Luniz got pissed, of course, about this thievery of the “Ice Cream Man” concept. Luniz sign to a major label and put out their debut full-length album, Operation Stackola, in 1995. Its biggest hit, by a substantial margin, is “I Got 5 on It.” Some thievery was allegedly involved in the pre-Luniz genesis of this beat.
So. Michael Marshall. A singer and songwriter from nearby Berkeley, California. He could sing gospel, he could sing R&B, he could sing pop. In the mid-’80s, Michael was the lead singer and primary songwriter for an R&B group called Timex Social Club. It’s unclear to me how a cartoon bomb with a cease-and-desist taped to it did not appear on their porch, with a Timex-branded watch counting down. Good for them. Timex Social Club had a top-10 pop hit in 1986 with “Rumors.” “Rumors” remains the fuckin’ jam.
That’s Michael Marshall on lead vocals. Quite a distinctive voice. There’s an anthemic yearning, a really appealing and palpable angst to this guy’s voice, whether he’s yearning for love, or truth, or, uh, weed. “Rumors” was the first track on Timex Social Club’s only album, 1986’s Vicious Rumors. Track 2, cowritten by Michael Marshall, is called “Thinkin’ About Ya.” And here is where the tumultuous journey to “I Got 5 on It” begins.
Soon Timex Social Club breaks up, and the group’s producer, a guy named Jay King, immediately starts a new group without Michael Marshall called Club Nouveau. Club Nouveau’s first album, Life, Love & Pain, comes out in late 1986. Same year. Track 1 is called “Jealousy” and is a very explicit copy of “Rumors.” Track 2 is called “Why You Treat Me So Bad” and sounds quite a bit like “Thinkin’ About Ya.”
Michael Marshall is not credited as a songwriter on “Why You Treat Me So Bad,” which is going to matter quite a bit a few years later when a Bay Area rap producer named Tone Capone attempts to sample it for a new song he’s working on called “I Got 5 on It.” Tone Capone struggled a bit to get the sample right, so in the end he decided to replay elements of “Why You Treat Me So Bad,” and for help with that he turned to an old high school buddy named Michael Marshall. He’s back. He is now functionally remaking a song that ripped him off. Michael is very much into the song’s Everybody throw in some money and let’s buy some weed concept, and he’s got some great ideas about refining the hook.
In 2019, the trailer for Jordan Peele’s new horror movie Us comes out, and it starts with a family playing “I Got 5 on It” on their car stereo, and then the trailer is set to a horror-movie version of “I Got 5 on It,” the thing where you take an old hit song and turn it into a scary-movie soundtrack. I don’t think it gets any better than that. But Michael Marshall was not necessarily celebrating. The Ringer interviewed him for a piece around the time of the Us trailer. Turns out Michael had somehow incorrectly filed his paperwork back in the mid-’90s and was not initially listed as a publisher on “I Got 5 on It,” no publishing rights. He only started getting royalties in 2005, by which point he’d struggled for several years with drug addiction and homelessness. Michael would summarize this entire debacle around how “I Got 5 on It” was built and what it became and how he was excluded from much of that process by saying, “It’s been a constant circle of fuckery in what seems like a conspiracy to not let me shine.”
Michael did get a solo career going in 2005; also in 2019, that’s him singing the old hippie jam “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” in the trailer for that rad movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco. This guy, consistently, when you hear him, you know it’s him, and you feel him.
Also around 2005, Michael moved to California’s Mendocino County and joined the increasingly lucrative weed-growing community there; he’s got his own grow now in Laytonville. He says that because of “I Got 5 on It,” he’s treated like a god. Rightly so. Good for him.
To hear the full episode click here, and be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.