A band composition with lyrics by lead singer Brad Nowell, this song is an anthem for the spiritually free but financially downtrodden. Nowell finds himself getting up in the morning, smoking his special cigarette, and wondering how he ended up broke. Then things start to look up as he reframes his life and sees all the good things about it: he has a dog, he can get high, and he's never gone to war. Instead of focusing on what he doesn't have (money) he sees what he does have (love), and realizes that's all he needs if he can keep a good attitude and not let problems bring him down. The song became far more poignant when Nowell died of a drug overdose just two months after it was released.
Many elements of this song, including the "Loving, is what I got" chorus, are based on a 1986 song called "Loving" by the Jamaican dancehall singer Half Pint (which can be found on the Skunk Records release of his album Recollection). Sublime didn't share the love - Half Pint got no credit on "What I Got."
The solo of the song was not performed by Brad Nowell, the singer/guitarist of Sublime, but rather one Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, who is one of the Recording Engineers. (thanks, Ryan - Davenport, IA)
There's a widely disputed "lyric" at the beginning of the original version of this song that exists in the commercially released versions but is toned down, possibly for copyright issues. Before the music starts, someone says what sounds like "F--k you Kenny." This is in fact a sample from Richard Pryor's standup comedy album That Nigger's Crazy, track name "Have your ass home by 11" where he says, imitating a girl who wouldn't sleep with him, "I don't want to f--k you, you can't even sing!" Pryor was talking about how musicians had a hard time picking up women in his day because there were Doo-Wop groups on every corner. (thanks, Matt Maguire - Watertown, MA)
Blues Traveler starting covering this in 2011 and released their version on their 2012 collection Blues Traveler: 25. Their guitarist Chan Kinchla told us: "We actually played a show with a band, Rebelution, who are managed by and related to some of the people that were in Sublime. They always loved the track, and that was kind of in the air, and they were like, 'You should record that and release it.' Because we did the best cover of it. Mainly because we didn't really try and copy their cover, we did our own version, which I think is why they liked it."
Chan adds that the song suited the band, especially their lead singer John Popper: "John's great at that kind of quick vocal scan anyway. And when you release a new record, you always want to put a few new things on it, and it just came together."