Warning: Lyrics are not suitable for children
Sublime’s self-titled album came out 1996, two months following the death of lead singer Bradley Nowell from a heroin overdose. The music still lives on today with a blend of ska, punk, reggae, and hip hop that really has not been captured as well since. The song “What I Got” was a huge hit from the album, topping the rock charts and peaking at 29 on the Billboard Top 100. The lyrics can be reviewed here.
Nowell begins the song singing, “Early in the morning, risin’ to the street / Light me up that cigarette and I strap shoes on my feet / Got to find a reason, a reason things went wrong / Got to find a reason why my money’s all gone / I got a dalmatian, and I can still get high / I can play the guitar like a mother f*****g riot.” What of that is Biblical? Let’s delve a little deeper here.
Nowell begins by describing the normal day of his life. He gets up, smokes a cigarette, hangs out with his dog, gets high (from heroin, which killed him), and plays the guitar. Waking, playing with Lou Dog, and playing guitar are fairly innocuous. The drugs are a problem. Drunkenness and actions caused by mind altering substances will cause foolishness, therefore the Bible condemns it (Proverbs 20:1, Isaiah 5:22, Ephesians 5:18). The Bible is clear that drunkenness, mind alteration will harm you; Bradley Nowell’s life proves this axiom to be true.
Nowell also asks why his money is gone and why life is going wrong. Those questions need to be framed in his lifestyle, but also – we should be reminded that sometimes bad things just happen (Job 1:21, Job 2:10, Matthew 5:45).
Nowell continues singing by saying, “Well, life is (too short), so love the one you got / ‘Cause you might get runover or you might get shot / Never start no static I just get it off my chest / Never had to battle with no bulletproof vest.” As I noted above, bad things happen to good people, good things to bad people. We are not promised tomorrow (Proverbs 27:1). He also notes that he doesn’t get into fights, but does get things off his chest. The Lord tells us to be honest with each other about issues with them (Matthew 18:15); He also tells us not to be actively disagreeable toward others (Matthew 5:22, 1 Peter 2:1). Nowell is displaying both of these Biblical characteristics according to this line.
Nowell’s verse continues when he says, “Take a small example, take a tip from me / Take all of your money, give it all to charity.” The Lord does not call all of us to give our all, but He does ask some to do that (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22). Nowell recommends it to all here. Recalling his original question about his money – if he gave it all away, it would explain why his money’s all gone. Him being high would also explain why he forgot that…but I digress.
The lyrics continue with, “Love is what I got / It’s within my reach / And the Sublime style’s still straight from Long Beach / It all comes back to you, you’ll finally get what you deserve / Try and test that you’re bound to get served / Love’s what I got.” Love is important and is ever present in the Bible (John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Colossians 3:14). We should cherish it as it comes from the Lord. After commenting on their unique style as a band, Nowell says people get what they deserve in the end. The wicked will get the punishment they deserve in the end if they remain apart from Christ (Psalm 94:23). Those of us who are in Christ, our eternal punishment we deserve is taken away (Romans 6:23). In the end, we don’t always get what we deserve – for Christ took that punishment for us (1 Peter 2:24).
After a chorus where he talks about having love, Nowell continues with his second verse singing, “I don’t cry when my dog runs away / I don’t get angry at the bills I have to pay / I don’t get angry when my Mom smokes pot / Hits the bottle and goes right to the rock / F*****’ and fightin’, it’s all the same.” Here we have a Nowell’s crude equivalent to Solomon’s “vanity, vanity everything’s vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He can’t worry about things he has no control over and feels none of it matters. The Lord tells us not to worry about many of the trivial things in life, but to turn to the Lord who can provide (Matthew 6:25-30, Philippians 4:6). That said, Nowell’s view goes quickly from the “things in this life are temporal” view (which is Biblical, see Ecclesiastes 2:4-11, Ecclesiastes 5:10-11) to a nihilistic view of the world, which is not (1 Corinthians 10:31). We exist to glorify God, not merely “just because.”
Reformed theologian and college professor Douglas Kelly in Creation and Change wrote, “Essentially, mankind has only two choices. Either we have evolved out of the slime and can be explained only in a materialistic sense, meaning that we are made of nothing but the material, or we have been made on a heavenly pattern.” By accepting the free gift of Christ, accepting the Bible, we accept that we have a heavenly pattern and a purpose for our being. Nowell accepts that there is no purpose for our being and, in the end, is rejecting this and accepting a form of nihilism.
There are nuggets of Biblical truth in the midst of this mid-90s reggae-rock, but there is also untruth which needs to be rejected. We should reject nihilism and acknowledge our purpose to glorify the almighty God. We should reject drugs as anything which causes such a modification to our state of being is problematic. We should embrace the love of God. Loving is what we’ve got from the Lord, let’s cherish it and the purpose He provides to us.