40 oz. To Freedom is the debut album for Bradley Nowell and his Long Beach,California-based band Sublime. The group had started making waves (pun intended) in Southern California at the outset of the 1990’s. But despite the following that they were accumulating the band was having trouble finding any interest from a record company, partly due to their reputation and partly due to their eclectic, undefinable sound. So Bradley started Skunk Records himself. After concentrating on playing live shows, the band released 40 Oz. to Freedom in 1992 under Nowell’s label, Skunk Records. The record established Sublime’s blend of ska, reggae, punk, surf rock, and hip hop, and helped further cultivate the group’s growing California following. Initially being sold exclusively at their live shows, the album became widely known in the greater Los Angeles area after rock radio station KROQ began playing the song, “Date Rape“. Over the course of the next 2 years the bands following continued to grow until in June 1994, they were signed to the label Gasoline Alley of MCA Records. The album eventually hit its commercial peak in 1995, 3 years after its original release. As of 2011 it has been certified as having sold over 2 million units, extremely impressive for a disc that was initially an independent release that was sold out of the back of the van at live shows. I won’t pretend that I was all over this disc when it came out in 1992. It wasn’t until after I discovered and fell in love with the Sublime album that I discovered 40 oz. To Freedom.
But it is, for most of us, our first glimpses into Bradley Nowell. His unique sound, his appeal and his genuine streetwise attitude. From Lou Dog’s barking at the beginning of “Waiting For My Ruca” until the end of “Thank You Dub” you don’t ever question that this Bradley Nowell’s vision whether it was his own creation or his unique interpretation of someone elses song (there are 6 covers on this disc). What makes an artist legendary? That’s an impossible question to answer. One element that I see that ties a lot of the artists that I personally consider legendary and iconic was their ability to make music that doesn’t sound like anything before them. This trait can certainly be attributed to Sublime. Is this record as good as the self-titled mega hitSublime? No, of course not. But there are some very high points and it is a glimpse into a raw Brad honing his craft.
The album starts out with “Waiting For My Ruca” and its deep bass dub which turns into a surprisingly touching, low-key groove. The disc moves into “40 oz. To Freedom” a tribute to solving our problems with alcohol (and the answers always waiting at the liquor store…40 oz. to freedom…so I take that walk… & ….a 40 oz. to freedom is the only chance I have to feel good even though I feel bad). The tribute moves from alcohol to marijuana on the very next song “Smoke Two Joints”. This is a cover of The Toyes 1983 song which was performed as traditional reggae. Sublime adds their own spin on the song by sampling a speech from the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film “Reefer Madness” and samples of bong water gurgling during the song.The catchy “Don’t Push” is one the best cuts on the album and is classic Sublime, blending crude and beautiful sometimes within the same line (if I had a shotgun, I’ll tell you what I’d do..I’d point that shit straight at the sky & shoot heaven on down for you) and is partially an homage to Bob Marley and the reggae that Brad loved.”Date Rape” is the most well-known cut from this set and was the song that helped get them a record contract. The ominous horns set the tone for this dark themed tune. It really tells the story from a narrative point of view. Partly because it contained the line “if it wasn’t for date rape, id never get laid” there was a huge back lash about the song. But all it takes is for someone to listen to it just once to understand that the song is not glorifying date rape and in the end the rapist goes to jail for his actions and gets anally raped. Almost smack dab in the middle of this offering is “Badfish”. It is one of my favorite Sublime songs of all and my favorite on this disc. I love the way it starts out with the strum of an acoustic guitar set to the back ground noise of party goers. before the peaceful beat of the tune kicks in. The lyrics give one the sense of despair that lied within Brad (when you grab a hold of me, tell me I’ll never be set free) and possibly his struggle with his growing addiction to heroin (lord knows I’m weak, won’t somebody get me off this reef). It speaks to those of us that know we are not like “normal” people and long to find others that share our course in life ( 2 pints of booze…tell me are you a badfish too?). I also love the way this album comes to a conclusion.Starting with the song “KRS-One” an ode to the rapper of the same name (an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) is a beautiful acoustic/hip hop tribute and is so damn catchy that you cant help but sing it all day after hearing it. Then moving into the wonderful cover of the Melodians “Rivers Of Babylon”. The album then concludes with “Thank You Dub”, which is essentially album liner notes turned into a song. It is a most unique and creative way to bring a record to its final conclusion.
While Brad and Sublime did not create the art of dubbing, they perfected it and made it an essential part of their musical style. Especially when the band would dub something into a spot where a line may have ended with a vulgarity, usually to humorous effect. He was also not above blatantly taking lines from other songs and inserting them into his. Sometimes he wrote songs or parts of them in Spanish. All of this jumbled together was the sound of Sublime, a sound that seemed somehow whole heartedly genuine. Another effect on this album that I love is the shortening of the gap between songs which gives the record a stream of conciseness feel.
Long live the spirit of Brad & Lou Dog….