The 1990s were known for possessing a wide variety of popular music that managed to be both melodic and socially conscious. The grunge movement expressed the angst of a generation, while the prefab bands like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys represented the polar end of the musical spectrum. Somewhere in between the angst of grunge and the good time tunes of pop music came Sublime. With their combination of punk, reggae, hip-hop, and good old fashion rock and roll, Sublime would create a handful of memorable albums in their all too brief career.
Sublime began in southern California during the late 1980s. Like most bands that would eventually achieve great success, Sublime was formed by friends. Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh were childhood friends in Long Beach, where each boy would benefit from the musical tutelage of Eric’s father (“Sublime”). The two boys formed a punk trio in high school with the future manager of Sublime and the boys began playing around their hometown.
Around this time, the two boys met Brad Nowell, and the three instantly hit it off musically, jamming together and separately for a period of time before finally forming Sublime in 1988, where the boys would play their first gig in a Long Beach club on the Fourth of July, which reportedly created a mini riot that led to a handful of arrests (“Sublime”). During this early period, the band would play mainly small clubs and parties and continue to improve their craft.
Unfortunately, it was also a time when the members of the band also experimented with hard drugs such as heroin. This early period would prove difficult but rewarding for the band, and in just a few short years they stood poised to dominate the music charts. Through extensive touring of California and a musical style and repitoire that only continued to expand and become more complex, Sublime was able to garner a significant following in its home state. Spurned by the success of its live shows, in 1992, Sublime recorded and released 40 Oz.
to Freedom under its own label, Skunk Records (“Sublime”). Though many hailed the album as a unique blend of musical genres, including reggae, ska, punk, and hip hop, the band failed to achieve widespread success outside of California. However, within the state, Sublime’s popularity only grew, and their album became increasingly popular, aided by the support of the popular rock station, KROQ, which often played one of 40 Oz. ’s more pop-oriented tracks, “Date Rape” (“Sublime”).
The critical reaction to the album, at the time relegated to local critics and national critics that specialized in the obscure local scenes, was mixed. While most appreciated the music fusion the band executed, it was considered largely “party” music or “frat rock,” and Brad’s lyrics came under constant fire. According to critic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “Since the group has a knack for combining dancehall reggae with hardcore punk, the music can be nervy and invigorating, but their joyous blend of cultures doesn’t fare so well at the lyrical level” (Erlewine).
In songs like “Date Rape,” Brad’s lyrics consist of references to homosexual acts that any high school freshman would find funny, while many of the other songs merely discuss the band’s love of marijuana, like the cover song, “Smoke Two Joints. ” In a period where bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were changing the face of music and infusing it with social commentary, Sublime’s efforts were criticized as spread too thin: “The group wants to appeal to alterna-punks, but they want to cut a little deeper and make some sort of social statement, both with their lyrics and their self-consciously eclectic music.
No matter how you look at it…it’s frat rock that’s bound to be misinterpreted, especially with its homophobic” (Erlewine). Despite the successes and failures of 40 Oz. to Freedom, the band would continue undaunted to pursue musical success. After the success of its self-released debut album, Sublime was signed to a division of MCA Records known as Gasoline Alley in 1994 (“Sublime”). Instead of immediately getting to work on recording a major label debut, the band released a collection of home recordings and audio clips known as Robbin’ the Hood. The record came out in 1994 and was released on Brad’s Skunk Records.
The band then went on the road and toured extensively during the next two years, finally gaining a reputation and a following outside of California. The most attention the band received was for co-headlining the 1995 Vans Warped Tour, where the group received rave reviews from concert goers that considered the band one of the most exciting bands on the tour; during the Warped Tour the band’s raucous behavior got it kicked off the tour, where Bud Gaugh was arrested though fans demanded the band be placed back on the tour, which they were (“Sublime”).
After the rousing success of their touring, the band was finally ready to record its major label debut and went into the studio in 1996. Sublime would unofficially end on May 25, 1996, when Brad Nowell was found dead in a hotel room of a heroin overdose (“Sublime”). With their major label debut recorded but not released, it seemed as if the music of Sublime would be erased from the annals of music history forever, but the opposite effect took place.
The self-titled album would go on to become a huge success, and one of the most popular albums of the 1990s. Sublime’s blend of reggae, ska, punk, and pop would introduce many younger kids to the legacy of Bob Marley, the Sex Pistols, Parliament Funkadelic, and alternative rock and roll. Preeminent rock critic David Fricke lamented that the world lost a rising talent with Brad’s overdose: “Whatever it was that drove Nowell into the arms of Mr. Brownstone is nowhere to be heard on Sublime.
The trio’s bright, wired bounce and the shell-game shuffle of funk beats, snappy Jamaican rhythms and mosh-pit, shout-it-out choruses in Nowell’s writing – that’s the stuff of a band with great promise and the confidence to make good on it. If only that were still possible” (Fricke). Sublime would go on to release several more albums composed of unreleased and live material, and sublime continues to be a successful band a decade after the untimely death of its lead singer and end of Sublime itself.
Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. “Album Review: 40 Oz. to Freedom. ” AllMusic. 2008. 19 Jun 2008. <http://www. allmusic. com/cg/amg. dll? p=amg&sql=10:fqx8b5c4nsq4~T1>. Fricke, David. “Album Review: Sublime. ” Rolling Stone Magazine. 2 Dec 1996. 19 Jun 2008. <http://www. rollingstone. com/artists/sublime/albums/album/147650/review/ 5943771/sublime>. “Sublime (band). ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Jun 2008. 19 Jun 2008. <http://en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title=Sublime_%28band%29&oldid=220079098>.