Zoë Alyce Salnave was a year old in 1994 when her mother started renting out the garage of their quiet pink house to a young music producer named Anthony “Tonecapone” Gilmour. Acoustic foam nailed to the garage walls kept the house from vibrating as he perfected his songs — including a future classic called “I Got 5 On It.”
The song, which Gilmour produced for the hip-hop duo Luniz, became one of the biggest hits of 1995. It’s hot again now thanks to its creepy role in Jordan Peele’s “Us.” On the surface, it’s just about kicking in to buy weed. But the song also has moody, mysterious undertones that serve “Us” well.
Peele’s film arrived just in time for Salnave, who is graduating from USC’s film school next month and says she has wanted for years to tell the story of how “I Got 5 on It” changed the lives of everyone involved in its creation. She plans to call her film “5 on It.”
“The song is kind of a climax of the story — and in a way, it all falls down,” Salnave told TheWrap. “Some people have their success, and some people are really crushed by all this fame and the way the money gets spent.”
Salnave’s mother, Carol Masters-Salnave, is a psychotherapist today, but in the ’90s, she and Salnave’s father were students, and part of overlapping groups of friends — including the musicians who worked in their garage.
“She was about eight or nine years older than everybody else, she’d lived a life,” Salnave said. “She’d been married and divorced and moved across the country and done all these things, and fell into this group. They kind of needed a mom.”
It was a strange time for Richmond, California, the city where they lived across the bay from San Francisco. The Bay Area was caught between the peak of the crack and AIDS epidemics of the ’80s and the fast-approaching dot-com boom.
“It’s about a certain time and space in my life and Zoë ‘s beginnings, and it was very impactful,” Masters-Salnave said. “And it was a lot of fun and a lot of heartache as well.”
“They had a peaceful-ass home and I started doing all this,” Gilmour joked.
Salnave, who has several shorts to her credit, plans to direct and co-write the film. She knows any hip-hop origin story will draw comparisons to the 2015 N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” but wants to show that there’s more to the hip-hop experience than gangs and violence.
“A lot of my impetus for telling this story is to show this really specific culture that is very Bay Area,” Salnave said. “As much as these guys might have been from the hood or hood adjacent or whatever, and listening to gangsta rap, they’d light up a blunt, but then they’d want to talk about social, impactful s—, and talk about the state of the world and what was going on in the White House or something. These guys always had something political on their tongue even though they were dropping five on it to get a sack.”
“Your mom would say, I just remember the best philosophical discussions with those guys,” added Kristen Laffey, who is producing the project. (Laffey is also the chief operations officer at Gaptoof Entertainment. One of the company’s films, “Ponyboi,” will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month.)
Salnave and Laffey want “5 on it” to focus on Masters-Salnave, Gilmour, and Michael Marshall, the vocalist who sings the emotional hook of “I Got 5 on It.”
Marshall told TheWrap that the song — and the era when it was created — conjure complicated memories.
His first group, Timex Social Club, achieved modest success in 1986 before an ugly breakup that left a collaborator, Jay King, with some of the music the group had worked on. One riff, from a largely forgotten Timex song called “Thinking About You,” later turned up on a hit for King’s next group, Club Nouveau: “Why You Treat Me So Bad.”
One day, Luniz rappers Jerold Dwight “Yukmouth” Ellis III and Garrick Demond “Numskull” Husbands brought a sample of “Why You Treat Me So Bad” to Gilmour, who happened to be collaborating with Marshall. Gilmour said he was trying to coax Marshall back into music in spite of the bad taste in Marshall’s mouth left by his experience with Timex.
Both Marshall and Gilmour recognized the riff — the same one from “Thinking About You.” Marshall believed that King had stolen it from him, which King has always denied.
“I was angry at first, because every time I heard that song it made me angry,” Marshall said.
But Gilmour told him that singing over the riff in “I Got 5 on It” could be a way to get justice.
When the song was released in 1995, it wasn’t just a hit for the Luniz, but a launchpad for Gilmour. He went on to produce songs for rappers including E-40, Scarface and the Geto Boys.
But Marshall struggled. He said he has released seven albums since “I Got 5 on It,” but none have succeeded like the Luniz hit.
“No one knows that I was the voice on ‘I Got 5 on It,’ so I couldn’t any push for my music,” he said.
He said he also used crack from 1986 to 2004 and didn’t realize until he entered treatment that his chemical makeup made him particularly susceptible to addiction. Once free of the drug, he submitted the paperwork to receive payments he was due for “I Got 5 on It.”
The release of “Us” has increased those payments substantially.
“I can retire. I’m good. I’m going to make enough money off the royalties,” Marshall said.
Gilmour told TheWrap that his payments from the song are up about 400 percent since the release of “Us.”
A movie about the creation of the song wouldn’t hurt, either.
Since “Us” has brought a happy ending to the saga of “I Got 5 on It,” we asked Salnave: Will Jordan Peele’s movie be a part of hers?
“I think we’re trying to allude to it,” she said.