40oz. to Freedom is the 1992 debut album by the Southern California ska-punk band Sublime released by Skunk Records and again by MCA. 40oz. to Freedom received mixed critical reviews upon its first release, but has earned an improved public perception since. Sublime would not achieve any mainstream success until the release of their eponymous album, two months after the overdose death of their lead singer and guitarist, Bradley Nowell, in 1996 (see 1996 in music). As of 2011, the album has certified sales of two million copies in the US, and is Sublime's second best-selling studio album there (the self-titled album leads with six million). Along with The Offspring's 1994 album Smash, 40oz. to Freedom is one of the highest-selling independently released albums of all time.
40oz. to Freedom's sound blended various forms of Jamaican music, including ska ("Date Rape"), rocksteady ("54-46 That's My Number"), roots reggae ("Smoke Two Joints") and dub ("Let's Go Get Stoned", "D.J.s") with British and American hardcore punk ("New Thrash", "Hope"), and hip hop (as in "Live at E's").
At the age of sixteen, Bradley Nowell began playing guitar and started his first band, Hogan's Heroes, with Michael Yates and Eric Wilson, who would later become Sublime's bassist. At first, Wilson did not share Nowell's interest in reggae music. Nowell recalled the experience: "I was trying to get them to do (UB40's version of) 'Cherry Oh Baby', and it didn't work. They tried, but it just sounded like such garbage. We were horrible."
In 1990, music student Michael "Miguel" Happoldt approached the band, offering to let the band record in the studio at the school where Happoldt was studying. The band enthusiastically agreed and trespassed into the school at night, where they recorded from midnight to seven in the morning. The recording session resulted in the popular cassette tape called Jah Won't Pay the Bills, which was released in 1991. The tape helped the band gain a grassroots following throughout Southern California. Using the same tactics implemented for the recording of Jah Won't Pay the Bills, the band recorded 40oz. to Freedom in secrecy at the studios in California State University, Dominguez Hills. Nowell recalled "You weren't supposed to be in there after 9 p.m., but we'd go in at 9:30 and stay until 5 in the morning. We'd just hide from the security guards. They never knew we were there. We managed to get $30,000 worth of studio time for free."
Sublime themselves credit a number of local reggae and rap bands from California for inspiration in their Thanx Dub. In addition to explicit mentions of artists like KRS-One and Half Pint, Nowell makes copious allusions to others through his lyrics. "Stolen from an Africa land" in Don't Push, for example, alludes to Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier". References are also made to Boomtown Rats, Beastie Boys, Tenor Saw, Pink Floyd, The Specials, The Ziggens, Minutemen, Jimi Hendrix, Just-Ice, Fishbone, Public Enemy and Flavor Flav among others.
The album has six covers:
"Smoke Two Joints" (by The Toyes)
"We're Only Gonna Die" (by Bad Religion)
"54-46 That's My Number" (by Toots & the Maytals)
"Scarlet Begonias" (by Grateful Dead)
"Rivers of Babylon" (by The Melodians)
"Hope" (by the Descendents)
The song "Don't Push" contains lyrics from the Beastie Boys song "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun". The song "D.J.s" contains a lyric from Bob Marley's "Ride Natty Ride" with "Dred gotta a job to do". The song "D.J.s" closes with lyrics from the Dandy Livingstone song "Rudy, A Message to You" which was popularized by The Specials, another band often credited as a Sublime influence. In "New Thrash," the words "There ain't no life nowhere" can be heard in the background, a reference to the Jimi Hendrix Experience song "I Don't Live Today" where the same words can be heard.
The album was originally released by Skunk Records on compact disc and cassette. The original cassette version contained a longer version of the track "Thanx"; the cassette version was 5:56, while the length was 4:23 on all other releases of the album. A longer instrumental version of the recording appears on the compilation Second-hand Smoke as "Thanx Dub", with a length of 6:28.
The album was reissued by Gasoline Alley Records and MCA with a different track listing, removing the song "Get Out!" and the hidden track "Rawhide" due to copyright issues — "Get Out!" contained unlicensed samples, and "Rawhide", which appeared at the end of "Date Rape", was an uncredited cover of the theme to the TV series of the same name. However, in the album booklet, the lyrics for "Get Out" are still printed. Additionally, other unlicensed samples were removed from the songs "We're Only Gonna Die for Our Arrogance" and "Let's Go Get Stoned".
The reedited version was released as a picture disc limited edition vinyl album in 2002, following the sixth anniversary of the events of 1996. A limited edition vinyl was released through Hot Topic in 2010.
Reception and legacy
Since its release in 1992, the album has proved to be a seller over time, moving over two million copies in the US alone and being certified Multi Platinum by the RIAA. It was successful for Sublime's first album. Although the album was released in 1992, it hit its peak on the Billboard 200 in 1995 after the band had risen in popularity.
All songs written and composed by Sublime, except where noted.
Bradley Nowell – vocals, guitar, percussion
Eric Wilson - bass, vocals (track #11), xylophone (track #20)
Bud Gaugh - drums, percussion (tracks #7, #8, #12, and #16)
Marshall Goodman - drums, turntables, samples, vocals (track #11)
Brian Wallace - Baritone Saxophone
Chris Hauser - Trumpet
Producers: Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, Sublime
Engineers: Anthony Antoine Arvizu, Steve McNeil
Mastering: Brian Gardner
Artwork: Opie Ortiz
Photos: Josh Coffman
Official Sublime website