“We Toured the Planet Off of That!”: The Hidden Origins of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It”
Bay Area producer Tone Capone had already been mixing records and chopping samples for well over a decade when he produced Luniz’s legendary hit “I Got 5 On It” in late 1993. Refusing to let equipment limitations of the early 80s discourage him when he first started exploring music, Capone used anything he could get his hands on. Just like The Beastie Boys, The Bomb Squad, and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, his first piece of gear was a cassette deck with a pause button. “I have been a DJ since 1981, back when we used to make mix tapes by using the pause button on a cassette player,” he told the website WhoSampled in 2013.
After mastering pause-button mixes, Capone started using drum machines and a 4-track to craft innovative instrumentals while playing samples and loops live from his turntables. “There were no samplers yet,” he told WhoSampled. “I remember using a 4-track and having to scratch and cut the records to create the loops before doing vocals. I used to make beats on a Roland 808 and 909 and scratch and mix records into my beat.”
Once he’d proven himself by maxing out the capabilities of the makeshift rig, Capone’s manager helped take his equipment game to the next level. “My first time using a sampler was when my manager let me use his SP-1200 overnight,” Capone told WhoSampled. “The first sample I used was Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Future Shock’. I stayed up all night using it.”
Though Capone loved the art of sampling at first, it was his deft ability to replay samples and make beats out of replayed samples that turned out to be a pivotal career move. A major opportunity to employ this technique presented itself when the Bay Area rap group Luniz asked him to remake their song “I Got 5 On It” in the early 90s. “Tone Capone is an incredible producer and that was our first underground producer we started working with,” Luniz member Yukmouth told the Murder Master Music Show in a 2017 interview. “We brought the album to him at the studio and I said, ‘I want this redone.’”
“I have been a DJ since 1981, back when we used to make mix tapes by using the pause button on a cassette player.” — Tone Capone
To start the process, Capone took Club Nouveau’s ominous 1987 R&B single “Why You Treat Me So Bad” and tried to make it more sample friendly. Although Capone saw the potential in Club Nouveau’s unique sound, something about the song didn’t quite work when he dumped it into his sampler, even after he pitched it down. That’s when he started thinking about using a replayed version of the song instead. “I looped the Club Nouveau record first and it was too fast,” he told WhoSampled. “I slowed it down and it sounded good, but after I analyzed it more I felt like I could replay it and control the breaks of the song better.”
To replay the song, Tone Capone and Luniz brought in Michael Marshall, a musician and singer whose relationship with Capone dated back to high school. Bringing Marshall into the fold exposed a surprising hidden story behind the Club Nouveau riff — the group had actually lifted it from Marshall’s former group Timex Social Club. “‘Why You Treat Me So Bad’ is a melody that was stolen from me from a song called ‘Thinking About You,’” Marshall explained in a 2014 interview with TrayzeTV.
A fascinating reddit post by user LeoLaker and an additional conversation I had with Timex Social Club founding member Marcus Thompson provides some added context to the story. Contrary to public perception, Timex Social Club’s 1986 song “Thinkin’ About Ya” was the first song to use the “5 On It” riff. The story behind Club Nouveau frequently being credited as the sample’s originators goes as follows. Jay King — the former president of Jay Records and executive producer of Timex Social Club’s hit “Rumors” — created Club Nouveau when he stopped working with the group after a falling out with Marshall. In his possession at the time of his departure were several cassette demos containing material from Timex Social Club. One of the songs included on the tapes was an in-development version of “Thinkin’ About Ya” that Marshall and Thompson had co-written. After King cut ties with Timex Social Club, he wasted no time in making a new song based on Marshall and Thompson’s musical invention. Though “Why You Treat Me So Bad” first appeared in late 1986 on Nouveau’s album Life, Love & Pain before it was released as a single in 1987, “Think’ About Ya” definitely came out first.
“We toured the planet off of that! “ — Yukmouth
Even though Club Nouveau’s song ultimately received credit for the sample, Michael Marshall seemed at peace with this after Luniz and Capone asked him to sing the chorus for “I Got 5 On It”. “I had an opportunity to be able to create over the beat that I had first,” he told TrayzeTV.
Once completed, Luniz’s first major single ended up becoming an international smash — but the process of getting there was a bit of a slow burn. “We recorded the record ‘I Got 5 On It’ late in 1993, got a deal with Virgin in 1994 and it was released in 1995,” Capone told WhoSampled.
Beyond giving him his first platinum production credit, the experience of making “I Got Five On It” made Tone Capone rethink his entire creative process. He soon started employing replays frequently for both business and musical reasons. “After that is when I really started to do more replays,” he told WhoSampled. “I also found out that we didn’t have to pay for the master usage of a sample we just had to negotiate the splits of the publishing.”
Capone realized he could further hone his abilities to recreate samples in a cost-friendly manner if he immersed himself in the music of the artists who were frequently sampled in rap music. “I started treating the production game like a science and really studying the instrumentation of the music I liked such as Parliament / Funkadelic, Ohio Players, Zapp, Bar-Kays, Kool & the Gang and anything produced by Fonce and Larry Mizell,” he told WhoSampled. As an added bonus, artists sometimes sample Tone Capone’s replayed songs instead of the original versions, making the method of replaying even more financially lucrative.
“I had an opportunity to be able to create over the beat that I had first.” — Michael Marshall
The creation of “I Got 5 On It” turned out to career-defining moment for all involved parties. Looking back on the success of the song now, Luniz member Yukmouth is quick to credit group mate Numskull for coming up with the original song concept. He also remains in awe of how far the song took them. “Num came up with the idea to do ‘5 On It’ so let’s not leave him out,” he told the Murder Master Music Show. “We toured the planet off of that! That’s a classic it still gets played 25 years later to this day! If you been watching the NFL or the NBA they play our shit all the time.”
Likewise, Tone Capone still can’t believe one single song can have such enduring power. “I was very surprised at the success of ‘I Got 5 On It’ because of its worldwide appeal,” he told WhoSampled. “I knew it was a good record, but I didn’t think that people would still be sampling it today.”
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