40oz. To Freedom
Released: June 1992
Label: Gasoline Alley
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 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 (not to be confused with the New Jersey hardcore punk band of the same name), 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.”