Five Songs That Prove Why Sublime Still Matters
3. "April 29, 1992" (aka the Long Beach CNN)
Chuck D of Public Enemy once famously said that "rap music is the black CNN," but in the case of the Los Angeles Riots' spillover in oft-forgotten Long Beach, it was local band Sublime's song "April 29, 1992 (Miami)" that became the city's most important news network.
Released on its 1996 multi-platinum self-titled album, the song reports on the burning buildings and criminals of the band's hometown in the days after four L.A. police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King. Using actual Long Beach Police Department radio transmissions and descriptions of personal involvement in the pillaging, the song gives the only localized account of the Long Beach riots.
To some, it might seem inflammatory that pseudo-reggae white boys would write a song about their participation in racially motivated violence and looting (our friends at the SF Weekly accused them of "piggybacking on a riot"). But the rioting Sublime writes about is not the iconic Normandie-and-Florence chaos that continues to be written about. The song is about how the riots affected them and others in Long Beach, a city nearby yet worlds apart from neighboring South Central (so when Nowell sings, "'Cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here," he's not only talking about disenfranchised blacks or mistreated Hispanics; he's also talking about the rest of the people in the city that were pissed off at "this fucked-up situation and these fucked-up police"). The song remains important as both Long Beach's riot-time CNN and the only cultural text that gives a white person's participatory perspective on the entire L.A. Riots. Yeah, apparently they stole some shit too.
2. "Caress Me Down" (how Jamaican riddems found a second life in Southern California)
There are two versions of "Caress Me Down" that exist in Sublime's repertoire--a studio version released on the band's 1996 self-titled album and a different live version released on 1998's compilation album Stand By Your Van. The main difference between the two--aside from production and recording quality--are the lyrics, with the studio version containing entire verses that are sung in Spanish. Both songs contain the exact same underlying Jamaican riddems and are on the whole, covers of Clement Irie's 1991 song "Caress Mi Down," which has the exact same chorus as Sublime's versions.
Riddems are a term for popular Jamaican rhythms, which have been reused as the base for multiple songs throughout modern Jamaican music history. Irie's version of "Caress Mi Down" uses a popular riddem called the "Cherry oh Baby" riddem, which Sublime combined with another riddem called the Sleng Teng. For Jamaican producers and musicians, the use of riddems is one way to make a song sound familiar to those who may have never heard of you before, similar to the way that popular guitar melodies are reused in mainstream songs of today (Kanye West's entire career may be reliant on this technique).