Sublime played its first gig on the Fourth of July, 1988 in a small club, reportedly starting the "Peninsula Riot" in Harbor Peninsula which led to seven arrests. For the next several years, the group focused primarily on playing at parties and clubs throughout Southern California. They recorded a few songs and put forth a number of short demos beside the well known Jah Won't Pay the Bills, containing several songs which would later appear on their major releases.
Eventually, Sublime developed a large following in California. 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 reggae, punk, skate, and hip hop, and helped to further strengthen 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". In June 1994, Sublime was signed to the label Gasoline Alley of MCA records by Jon Phillips who subsequently became Sublime's manager.
The band toured extensively throughout 1994-1995, their popularity increasing gradually beyond the West Coast as "Date Rape" began earning radio play. Nowell was known for his tendency to play heavily intoxicated to the degree that he sometimes seemed to not even be able to play the guitar, as seen in the majority of the videos featuring the band live. In 1995, the band co-headlined the inaugural nationwide Vans Warped Tour. Being one of the most popular acts on the tour, their drug use led to tensions with the tour management. Gaugh was arrested several times for possessing marijuana. Similarly, the band's famed practice of keeping their dogs with them everywhere, including on the stage, resulted in concert-goers being bitten. Sublime was actually kicked off the tour for some time before the tour management was forced to reconsider and bring them back due to popular demand. After the Warped Tour and the subsequent Three Ring Circus Tour, the band was pressured to begin producing new studio material as a proper follow-up to the suddenly-prosperous 40 Oz. to Freedom.
Early 1996 saw Sublime headline the very first SnoCore Tour. In February, they began recording what would comprise the band's self-titled third record and their major label debut album. They completed it before Nowell died of a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996 at the Oceanview Motel in San Francisco, California, two months prior to the release. The album became a huge success, including the single "What I Got", which made it to #1 at the Modern Rock Chart. The album earned the band worldwide fame, and has since gone five-times platinum. Beside "What I Got", the album included several popular singles including "Santeria", "Doin' Time", "Wrong Way" and "April 29, 1992 (Miami)", all of which received heavy airplay.
A number of posthumous releases followed, among them Second-Hand Smoke in 1997 and both Stand by Your Van and Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends in 1998. By the release of their Greatest Hits compilation in 1999 the band had released as many albums after Nowell's death as during his lifetime. A box set of demos, rarities and live recordings, entitled Everything Under the Sun, was released on November 14, 2006.
Following Sublime's demise, its surviving members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh formed the Long Beach Dub Allstars in 1997, which also included many frequent Sublime contributors such as Michael "Miguel" Happoldt (former member of The Ziggens), Todd Forman (3rd Alley) and "Field" Marshall Goodman. LBDA disbanded in 2002.
In February 2009, rumors surfaced that the surviving members of Sublime would be reuniting for a February 28th performance at Cantina Los Tres Hombres in Sparks, Nevada. The performance was confirmed on March 1, 2009, by a MySpace blog message from Gaugh's current band Del Mar; the message stated the singer and guitarist that joined Wilson and Gaugh onstage was Rome, a 20-year-old from northern California. In regards to the band's future, the message said, Sublime has no "firm tour plans or anything yet".