Nervous Records’ Mike Weiss: Play De Selection

Nothing looks sweeter on a Technics 1200 platter than the classic yellow felt Nervous Records slipmats. Depending on your lifestyle, you might go with the Wrecked or Weeded variation, but these mats were a staple in chill-spots for my growing up, and my awakening to Hip-Hop. The Nervous logo and company manifesto has never changed. […]

Nothing looks sweeter on a Technics 1200 platter than the classic yellow felt Nervous Records slipmats. Depending on your lifestyle, you might go with the Wrecked or Weeded variation, but these mats were a staple in chill-spots for my growing up, and my awakening to Hip-Hop. The Nervous logo and company manifesto has never changed.

However, it’s been a number of years since the independent label has made a 12” plate to drop on the mats that had the magnitude of Black Moon or Smif-N-Wessun’s debut albums. Nobody knows that more than Founder, Mike Weiss. But what people may be unaware of, is that Mike Weiss and Nervous Records have remained committed to Hip-Hop through the decade. These days, it is Nervous that puts out singles and albums from iconic figures like Busy Bee and PMD. Mike Weiss is a B-Boy’s executive, all the way. wanted to check in with Mike, to see how the leading independent Hip-Hop label of the early 90’s is staying edgy and fresh. With a new group on the way, Weiss looks back on his history and his future with realism and optimism alike. First off, coming from a DJ background… Nervous has one of the most popular slipmats because your logos are classic. Nervous, Weeded, etc. How did that logo come to be, and what does it mean to you?

Mike Weiss: I came up with the Nervous logo in 1991. Back then, the hot labels weren’t doing cartoon logos, so I thought the cartoon would set us off from other labels at the time. I got inspired one day when I was at Vinylmania Records. The place was crowded, and somebody wanted to get a copy of a record off the wall rack in the back. So one of the guys working there grabbed the record off the rack and threw it to the guy up front, but he didn’t catch it – and it him in the head. As far as the word “Nervous,” before I started Nervous, I reactivated my father’s old Disco label, Sam Records, and turned it to a Hip-Hop label. I was promoting records to Chuck Chillout up at WBLS, and I was pushing him hard to play my records. He started calling me, “Captain Nervous,” and the word just had a good ring to it. This summer you’re releasing a Busy Bee 12″. Truthfully, it doesn’t get more Hip-Hop than that. Tell me why you’re doing that, perhaps at a time when people are interested in tomorrow’s stars, not yesteryear’s…

Mike Weiss: It seems real hard to make an impression in the stores and clubs right now, especially if you cannot come with a six-figure video. So I’m just looking for artists that at least have some recognition. I had some success with the EPMD “Danger Zone” single last Fall. Busy Bee is a known entity, and still actively doing shows. So it seemed like a fresh concept to have him release a single. A lot of mixers around the country are feeling it. Another big moment this past year was the Hit Squad record. Parrish Smith is one of the most seasoned veterans still capable of accomplishing his best record… did the project meet your expectations?

Mike Weiss: We were hoping to sell 10,000 CD’s. While we didn’t quite hit that number, we got CD’s into all the right spots, and did a nice lil’ tour that was able to bring some awareness to both Nervous and to PMD. As the vinyl-buying culture has declined, how has your business-plan and day-to-day operations changed? Nervous has always seemed to do more for the DJ than the CD-buying culture. How has your attitude changed with the times?

Mike Weiss: The vinyl market is suffering. The core spots in the East Coast like Rock N’ Soul in New York City, Beat Street in Brooklyn, Sound of Market in Philly, they aren’t moving nearly the numbers they used to. We can’t fight the digital movement. The big sites like iTunes and Napster are giving nice exposure to underground Hip-Hop, but I think they will always be known for the commercial sounds. We need a great digital download site to emerge that will really be geared towards [underground Hip-Hop] sales, similar to what Sandbox and HipHopSite are for mail-order. We can’t ignore Black Moon, the greatest Hip-Hop act that Nervous was a part of. Buckshot at times, has criticized your early dealings. I’m curious to hear your side. Some fans argued that Duck Down’s sound was watered down at Priority…

Mike Weiss: There’s no question that we had a good formula when Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun were signed to Nervous, and when Dru-Ha was working here. With respect to Buckshot’s criticizing those early dealings, I’m not going to get into a war of words over anything. Everybody has their own take on what went down. Bottom line is this: I gave Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, and Dru-Ha their first gigs in the business. They were able to take that experience and move in the business. Do I think we all would have been better off if we had stayed together? Absolutely, yes. But it wasn’t meant to be. I’m still proud of those guys. They have been able to hold their camp together, which is a real tough thing to do in the current state of Hip-Hop. I am real proud of those two albums, Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin’ are essential items for any Hip-Hop fan. Most indies can only dream to be a Nervous Records. What advice would you give today’s Indie entrepeneur? People group label heads together. Suge Knight always stressed reading your own mail. Russell Simmons used to be available to his artists at any time…

Mike Weiss: An independent label is an extension of the person who is behind it. So if you want to blow up your music, you got to market yourself and your brand along with it. In my case, I was never really one to blow up the club scene, so I made a made a logo that would give us a presence. And along with that, we made 1,000’s of Nervous shirts that kept the awareness out there. Some indie label-heads are DJ’s. If that’s you, then you should try to play out seven days a week and constantly promote and play your music. Some people are just gonna be hustlers. I liked Kenny Parker and D-Nice. But Mad Lion remains my favorite KRS-endorsed artist, ever. As we see Sean Paul and Beenie Man make smooth transitions into Hip-Hop today, why was Mad Lion unable to cross over?

Mike Weiss: A hit like “Take It Easy” happens, and the artist behind it, which in this case was Mad Lion, has a nice run. But a repeat is really tough. I don’t think anything really went wrong. For Mad Lion to continue to make records like “Take It Easy” would have been a beautiful thing. His rugged voice sounded cool with the beat. We tried to do it with the second album, but it just wasn’t there. What is your greatest business regret?

Mike Weiss: Back in ’92, before Loud [Records] was even on the map, RZA was looking for a deal for Wu-Tang, and Nervous was the hottest New York street label at the that time. I was content with what I had going on at the time between Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, Mad Lion and Funkmaster Flex. But in looking back, it would have been really smart to bring Wu-Tang to Nervous. Hip-Hop needs homes. D&D Studios, Fat Beats, the 40/40 Club, this can be looked at as homes within New York Hip-Hop. I think Nervous, with the logo and history, is a Hip-Hop home. How do you intend to keep this up going into your 15th year?

Mike Weiss: Nervous has always been about New York talent. Right now, the heat is definitely not on New York. I’m hoping it can come back. The big project I’m working on now is A-Alikes. They were brought to Nervous by Nervous’ VP, Big Kas. They got the classic gritty, East Coast style. Plus, the energy that the MC’s, Ness and Karaam have, reminds me, somewhat, of the energy that Buckshot and Big Five had when they first came out in ’92. Buck was always the charismatic, talkative type – while Five was the strong, silent partner. Ness and Karaam have a similar energy. They’re in the studio right now. We’re trying to get the album out in October ’05. What’s your favorite record in your own catalog?

Mike Weiss: My favorites are the ones that could blow up the spot in a club. I would say, “Sound Bwoy Bureill” by Smif-N-Wessun and “Shoot To Kill” by Mad Lion.