It’s a weed smokers’ anthem, but even if you’ve never put five dollars down on a bag of smoke, there’s a very high chance you’ve jammed out to it.
The 1995 song, “I Got 5 on It,” by rap duo Luniz was released more than two decades ago, but is still immensely popular. In the Bay Area, where the song and its artists are from, it still plays in heavy rotation on radio stations. Though the song was a bit before my time, it was a classic party song as I was growing up about 15 minutes south of Oakland. It sounds quaint now to think that a five-dollar bill could grant you access to a satisfactory smoke session. But people will always be able to relate to throwing fade down on alcohol, weed, or whatever your vice of choice is. And, not to mention, the beat slaps, the rhymes are sick, and the chorus is unforgettable.
On Christmas, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele dropped the trailer for Us, his highly anticipated follow-up to Get Out. The song that serves as the backdrop to the Us trailer? “I Got 5 on It,” remixed to sound pretty horrifying. Since the trailer’s release, the song has seen a sudden resurgence in popularity. People are not only reminiscing about how great the song is (which is literally what the parents in Us are telling their children as the trailer opens), but are also shocked at how well it plays as the theme to a horror film.
When you think about the song, though, the part that sticks isn’t the rap verses by Luniz or any of the rappers on the remix like E-40, although they’re all dope. It’s the chorus, and the distinctive refrain that everyone sings: “I got five on it. Messin’ with that indo weed, I got five on it….Partna let’s go half on a sack.” In fact, it’s the only part from the song that plays throughout the trailer.
But the man behind that famous hook? He’s feels he’s been nearly erased from the song’s legacy. “I’m one of the people you’re playing in your car all the time!” said that man, Michael Marshall. “I ain’t got nothing from it.”
I first met Michael Marshall around 2012 when I was living in San Francisco. We crossed paths in similar weed circles. At a gathering one day, a mutual friend mentioned casually to me in passing: “That guy over there? Yeah, he’s the voice behind ‘I Got 5 on It.’” I was dumbstruck. There were other Bay Area rappers and singers in these weed circles, as you might imagine, but Marshall’s voice was by far the most well-known, or at least the most widely heard. Now in his 50s, Marshall told me he was growing weed in Mendocino County. He said he was still performing and putting out new music, but that he generally lived a very low-key lifestyle.
When I got home after meeting him, I instantly started digging.
I found the music video to his 2008 song “Who Is He” on YouTube. In the lyrics, he lays out his story: The oldest of four children, Marshall was raised by a single mother in Berkeley, California during the 1970s. He sang choir in a Pentecostal church, and went on to become the voice behind the Timex Social Club song “Rumors,” which was a smash hit in the 1980s. He describes his time in the music industry as a traumatic one that led to some devastating consequences. After feeling taken advantage of time and time again by the music industry, he developed an addiction to crack cocaine that absorbed his life for over two decades.
When the Us trailer dropped, I reached out to Marshall. He found out his voice was featured in the trailer the same day the rest of the world did. He was watching the Lakers-Warriors game on Christmas Day when the trailer played during halftime. He was stunned. “Do they not think I’m alive?” he wondered. No one had reached out to him about using the song in the trailer, he told me, despite the fact that he has publishing rights. It wasn’t the first time something like this has happened. His battle with the industry goes all the way back to “Rumors.” When he talks about it, it’s with a fierce bitterness as if it all happened yesterday.
In the 1980s, Marshall was making music with a group called Timex Social Club. He and his friend Marcus Thompson would hang out after school and create music. Marshall played piano and sang while Thompson wrote lyrics. Together they created “Rumors.” Marshall and Thompson performed it at Berkeley High School’s talent show and the audience loved it. They were approached about recording the song professionally and eventually produced the track with a man named Jay King. After its release in 1986, “Rumors” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, creating demand for an album. “He had one of the most interesting voices in the history of the music business as far as I’m concerned,” King told me over the phone. King wanted to sign Timex Social Club to a multi-album deal. But Marshall was wary of being tied down to a long contract, and Timex Social Club ended up signing with a different label. King went on to create a new group, Club Nouveau, whose debut album was titled Life, Love & Pain. To Marshall, it sounded immediately familiar.
“When I heard [the song] ‘Jealousy’ [from that album], I knew it was a copy of ‘Rumors,’” said Marshall, referring to the melody and bass line. “When I heard ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad,’ I knew that was my song [too], but at the time I didn’t know what my recourse was so I never fought them on that.”
Although King disagrees that the songs in question belong to Marshall, he’s open about the fact that Club Nouveau’s sound was directly lifted from Timex Social Club. “It was purposely done like that,” he said. “‘Jealousy’ was nothing more than an extension of ‘Rumors.’” The sound of the two groups was so similar that people often confused them. “From 1986 until 1994, I was ranting and raving how Club Nouveau stole my shit,” Marshall said.
Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” is credited as the original sample for Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It.” But as with the “Jealousy”-“Rumors” parallel, “Why You Treat Me So Bad” shares a lot in common with Timex Social Club’s “Thinkin’ About Ya.” Marshall worked with the same producers who went on to work with Jay King. They had access to the music they worked on with Marshall, including “Thinkin’ About Ya.” Since Marshall had no credits or rights to the Club Nouveau song, he received no monetary compensation for the sample on “I Got 5 on It,” he told me.
According to Marshall, the real origins of the “I Got 5 on It” sound can be traced back to a DJ named Malcolm McLaren. Marshall had listened to him for years, and specifically, McLaren’s track “Buffalo Gals.” It’s what inspired him when he wrote the music for “Thinkin’ About Ya.” “I’d be walking around making that sound: buh da buh dum, buh da buh dum, buh da buh dom, buh da duh dum,” Marshall said. That sound is distinctly recognizable as the riff in the Luniz track. “I’m telling [the producer when we recorded ‘Thinkin’ About Ya’], ‘I want the song to start as this sort of orchestral, kind of eerie sound because it’s a sad song,’” he said.
That eeriness is why Jordan Peele was drawn to the song for Us. In an interview with EW, the director said, “I feel like the beat in that song has this inherent cryptic energy, almost reminiscent of the Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack.”
Even with the success of “Rumors” and the opportunity to open concerts for artists like Run-DMC and Jermaine Jackson, Marshall felt like he deserved more. Tone Capone, a Bay Area producer, knew Marshall’s backstory when he was working with the singer in 1993. Tone had been approached by a duo of young rappers called Luniz who wanted to sample Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” in a song about throwing some cash down on a dime bag. Tone figured this was a good way for Marshall to get some shine. “I wanted him to get a chance on it,” he said. “I thought it would sound good. I wanted him to be on some hot shit.”
Marshall says Luniz came to the table with the phrase “I got five on it.” The rest of the hook, he changed. “The hook idea was a little more jumbled than what you hear now,” Marshall said. “It was too many words. I edited it and did my thing and that’s what we have now.” Yukmouth, one-half of Luniz, recalled via email: “I wrote the ‘I Got 5 on It’ hook but it sounded wack with me just saying it. We needed a singer and Tone Capone had the perfect guy from Timex Social Club, which was Mike Marshall. We made a classic!” With Tone Capone’s production, Luniz’s verses, and Marshall’s hook, “I Got 5 on It” became a top 10 hit.
Now more experienced, Marshall made sure to demand publishing credit. He came to an agreement with Luniz’s label at the time, C-Note Records, on a publishing percentage, but, according to Marshall, that paperwork was never properly submitted. When “I Got 5 on It” was released, he received zero publishing rights and he isn’t listed as a publisher, despite having written parts of the song. To this day, Marshall has never performed “I Got 5 on It” with the duo. He said he didn’t start getting royalties until 2005 when he finally got his paperwork together to fix the incongruence. “It’s been a constant circle of fuckery in what seems like a conspiracy to not let me shine,” he said.
In the decade between the release of “I Got 5 on It” and finally starting to get his due, Marshall found himself in a dark place. He started smoking crack after the “Rumors” debacle with Jay Records and it only got worse as the years went on. His old nemesis, King, told me: “Michael Marshall could’ve had one of the greatest careers coming out of the Bay Area.” Instead, Marshall was homeless, going from couch to couch, depending on anyone who’d offer him shelter. His anger turned into resentment which then morphed into bitterness, and the addiction went on for 25 years. “It was a lot of hiding,” he recounted. “I want to say there was a lot of chipping away at my self-esteem, but my self-esteem was already gone [by then].”
In 2005, he got married and decided to get clean. His wife, April, was the one who helped him get all of his paperwork in order. He moved away from the Bay Area to become a marijuana trimmer in Mendocino County. He found his community there and now has his own grow in Laytonville. “[‘I Got 5 on It’] is an anthem in the weed community so I’m like a god up here,” he said.
He sees the Us movie as his third chance to finally reap some benefits for his past musical glory. Marshall says he communicated with Universal Pictures after seeing the trailer on TV. He’s now getting some royalties but he’s hoping to build further off the newfound exposure. “The original royalties [for ‘I Got 5 On It’] was in the millions of dollars,” Marshall said. “I missed that. It’s pennies now, but the movie is bringing a second round of attention.”
He hopes to copyright the phrase “creep on in” from the song (which is used as a terrifying punctuator in the trailer) and parlay that into merchandise and maybe even an annual “I Got 5 on It” festival, similar to hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics’ Hiero Day in Oakland.
In the meantime, Marshall continues to sing hooks for rappers like E-40 and Andre Nickatina, and has released five albums since his Timex Social Club days. He’s hoping that people will discover that work as well. “[Jordan Peele] picked the song because of the melody and the voice,” he explained. “Both of those belong to me—they don’t belong to the Luniz.” As Peele continues to do PR for Us (which hits theaters on March 22) and talks about his inspiration for the trailer music, Marshall is hoping that his name will be mentioned or at least listed in the credits of the film, especially if the song is used elsewhere in the movie.
For now, Marshall is older and wiser, and things are finally looking up. What’s more, he’s excited that the trailer ensures a new generation is being introduced to the song. “If I die today and never got an opportunity for people to know [my work],” he said, “that would break my family’s heart.”
Anna Lucente Sterling is a New York–based journalist whose work has appeared in NBC News, Vice, and HuffPost.