I Got 3 Outta 5 On It

(**Spoilers, duh)

Thanks to Jordan Peele’s sophomore entry Us, some people are rediscovering — and others somehow just discovering — Bay Area rap duo Luniz’s classic “I Got 5 On It,” from their 1995 album Operation Stackola. First, let me drop a hot take. I Got 5 On It isn’t even the best song on that album. “Playa Hata”, featuring New Jack Swing staple Teddy Riley is. The song also best showcases one half of the duo Yukmouth’s remarkable staccato flow.

That said, as a 90s west coast hip hop nerd, I have to admit that there are few more enduring tracks than Luniz’s classic weed anthem. I Got 5 On It just might be the definitive Bay Area Mobb Music joint in the same way that “Regulate” or “Nothin But a G Thang” is for G-Funk in L.A. These tracks still bump on left coast radio and clubs to this day.

For these reasons, it kind of makes sense that Peele’s new film about the Wilsons, an upper middle class black family who descends upon Santa Cruz, CA for the summer, would feature I Got 5 On It as its anthem. There’s mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), peak dad Gabe (Winston Duke), teen daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and quirky son Jason (Evan Alex). Us begins, though, not in the present, but in the past — in 1986 to be precise.

Remember that date.

Back in Reagan times, a young Adelaide goes to an amusement boardwalk in Santa Cruz with her family, but eventually wanders off. She enters a house of mirrors and faces not her inanimate reflection but her actual, living, breathing doppelgänger. This freaks her out and back at home, the family brings in a psychologist to deal with Adelaide’s trauma and selective mutism. The girl just won’t talk anymore, a detail which adds to the incredible payoff twist in the final moments of the film’s third act.

Filmmaker Peele is very much concerned with (black) creativity and who controls that creativity. In Get Out, it is Chris’ sight, his gift for seeing the world that the Armitages’ want to exploit, plunder and all out consume. But it is that very same sight, when harnessed on his own, that helps Chris start to see through the ruse and ultimately get free. It's not just that the black guy didn’t die first in the horror flick. It’s that his talents and gifts remained central throughout the film and were the cause of his own freedom.

I wouldn’t say that Us is as explicitly racial when it comes to its exploration of this same dynamic and already we have think pieces evoking everything from the Election of 2016, to capitalism, and Native American exploitation. In Peele’s fun house world, everyone has a doppelgänger (“Tether”) that toils in a subterranean and significantly less sunny world. Deep down below, these beings are forced to mimic the movements of us humans above, without reaping any benefits or recognition for their labor. Here, Peele has another perfect reply to those who still play dumb about cultural appropriation— though the term is not always perfectly applied. Sure, you can talk about “Power Dynamics” but what are its precise consequences? Who truly gets credit and who doesn’t? Who gets to be sustained by their own efforts and who is left parched? And perhaps most importantly, who gets to tell their story? The Tethered have been silenced and on a steady diet of rabbits (don’t ask) for years. And they’re ready to talk.

Adelaide’s apparent Tether Red, who communicates more with a croak to be fair (the eeriest aspect about this flick), leads this zombified revolution. She and the rest of her equivalent family arrive, break up the Wilson’s fun summer vacay, and start to wreak havoc. The horror spreads from the quaint Wilson lake house to the broader community, with scores of other Tethered joining in maybe all the way from sea to shining sea.

Adelaide’s own talent is ballet. She was a young, promising dancer as a kid and when she goes through that awful house of mirrors, the psychologist suggests that she reconnect with her creative pursuits — the things that make her definitively her. Again, if I’m reading the third act twist correctly, it turns out that Adelaide and Red switch places way back when in 1986 (again remember that date), and Red assimilates undetected back into the family. So more precisely, Red learns how to be “herself” and fully human again by tapping into her creative genius.

There’s much to admire about Us, including its normal depiction of black family life. Dad Gabe, repping his Howard University sweatshirt, provides similar and much-needed comic relief as TSA Agent Rod did in Get Out. Somehow Peele makes these men the source of many jokes but never the butt of one.

There’s a memorable scene early in act two when Jason and his doppelgänger Pluto play in a closet. While it’s true that Jason also has the agenda of getting the heck out of there and away from his feral counterpoint, he also realizes that he can connect with Pluto better when they each have on their masks— Pluto’s own covering a disfigured face. Peele knows how to humanize his spectres and how to make his heroes and his ghouls meet in the middle to gain some, if not brief, understanding.

The movie also has one of the best Dark Night of the Souls I’ve seen in recent memory, with Adelaide going deep down into the abyss to confront Red. Just when you think we’ve reached rock bottom, there’s yet another floor for Adelaide to descend down into. We usually think of progress as upward and conclusive, not downward and seemingly never-ending.

However, unlike Get Out’s tightly controlled chaos under the single Armitage roof, once Us leaves the quaint little lake house, I often felt myself wondering what was going on in the broader world and what the rules of that world were. Did the terror extend beyond Santa Cruz? If so, how much further? And while there were a few clunky moments of exposition in Get Out, they didn’t seem to bog the film down as much as here.

In addition, the film’s spectacular last shot mostly just left me wanting more. I did not feel closure in the same way that I did in Get Out, again a film dealing with wide-reaching themes but set under one compact roof. If the Tethered put their “Hands Across America” as it were, what was the response?! To me, it’s not even clear who’s watching them and a bunch of hovering helicopters does not a satisfying reaction shot make.

Finally, one more note on music, which is a pretty important part of Peele’s early style. In Get Out, the theme was “Redbone”, which probably made Childish Gambino’s anthem even more popular than it already was. And if you told me Redbone was sung by some 70s funk group, I’d believe you. Of course, without funk and R&B, there would be no hip hop. What I love about hip hop’s sampling is its ability to speak across generations and inspire my generation to uncover and resurrect songs of old. I knew Pac’s “All About U” before I knew Cameo’s “Candy”, but now I have love for both.

As for I Got 5 On It, the story behind its sample is pretty complicated and involves the third voice on I Got 5 On it, Mike Marshall, the Bay Area crooner behind that legendary chorus: “I got five on it/ Grab your 40, let's get keyed/I got five on it/Messin' wit that Indo' weed…”

I own Mike Marshall’s obscure solo album “Love, Lies and Life.” But besides his hit with Luniz, and another strong appearance in 3XCrazy’s “In the Name of Rame”, Marshall is pretty much a hip hop footnote. In another life, maybe he could’ve been the Bay Area’s Nate Dogg.

In a wonderful Ringer piece, writer Anna Lucente Sterling gives love to Mike Marshall, who got his start as the lead singer of Timex Social Club. Listen to their 1986 song “Thinkin’ About Ya” and you might hear a lot of I Got 5 On It there. Interestingly, Club Nouveau’s (also 1986) “Why You Treat Me So Bad”, is listed as the primary sample for I Got 5 On it.

Long story short, according to Sterling, Marshall ended up on the short end of several sticks, didn’t make the kind of money he could have, and was so untethered to the song that he was caught unaware when it showed up in Us.

Luckily, that same article notes that Marshall is now finally receiving some royalties from Universal and recognition overall. Still, I’m already noticing in some reviews that folks are solely crediting Peele for “remixing” I Got 5 On It, when clearly many of those eerie sounds you’re hearing are from two older songs. Quite the doppelgänger.

*** outta *****