A Link in the Chain: Daniel Berger aka ‘BT’
SAE Alum Contributed Heavily to Classic Rap Sequel
“Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm and Head… we have the power to resurrect the dead.”-repeated chorus throughout Raekwon’s “North Star (Jewels),” the closing track on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
“No man can judge for another. But each man must weigh all facts and circumstances, and find truth through his own judgment of righteousness.”-Papa Wu, in his closing meditation on “North Star (Jewels)”
These two layered loops thusly end the cinematic journey of one of Hip-Hop’s most beloved masterpieces: an echoing, cryptic prayer to a higher power dwelling within one’s self, and hard-earned gems of wisdom spoken by a spiritual mentor.
The general populace of Wu-fans must remember the heightened feelings of anxiousness, the wrought anticipation that seemingly stretched on for an eternity preceding the release of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. II. But for all of the pushed back release dates, it was the extra investment of time, as well as a devotion to album craftsmanship, that ensured the sequel worthy of shouldering the mythological heft of its predecessor.
Enter Daniel Berger –aka BT– graduate of SAE NY, and one of the chief engineers for OB4CLII.
Berger, a current Manhattan resident who grew up in New Jersey, was highly instrumental in the excellent sequencing and narrative progression of the album’s sound and story, which he wisely opens with a slowed down version of the instrumental from “North Star,” featuring another cameo from Papa Wu, who sounds like he’s been massaging his tonsils with sandpaper since ‘95. And thus begins Hip-Hop’s most successful sequel.
“I didn’t only make a beat for that album,” says BT (though he did do that: track 9, “Penitentiary”), “I engineered most of that album. It was my job to keep track of everything.” Keeping track of everything is a rather modest way to designate the task of following up one of Hip-Hop’s most monumental achievements, but BT was ably equipped.
“When I became his personal engineer, it was a trust thing,” he says, “he trusted me that I would never leak anything. That I would stay true to the project.”
BT started touring with the Chef, the only personal engineer to any of the Wu members on tour, and he took on added archival responsibilities while also serving as a consultant to the rapper. “What got me through it, was that I really knew Pro Tools well,” says BT, who would sift through stacks of beats sent in for the project from some of the most recognizable and esteemed names in Hip-Hop production.
Of the production that ended up being selected, BT was one of the only contributors who hadn’t previously been featured on multi-platinum efforts. But his chemistry with Raekwon made for a healthy creative pairing: “Rae is a really good artist to work with musically. He’ll scrap verses if they don’t fit. It made me sharpen my game, it made me hold myself to a high standard.”
BT’s extensive contributions and commitment to perfectionism helped solidify OB4CLII as one of the most critically lauded releases of the year, earning high marks from critics. The album also defined its own distinct, timeless sonic landscape for Hip-Hop that year, securing a legacy all its own within the Cuban Linx lineage.
Raekwon was gracious for BT’s contributions and encouraging of his budding career. When Rae was told that BT had graduated from SAE Institute, he beamed with pride at his engineer’s academic accomplishments, and proudly shared BT’s credentials with several of his album collaborators and friends. “It impressed him, it made him understand how seriously I took this,” says BT.
Besides his work for Raekwon, BT stays busy constantly remixing projects and creating original beats and compositions. He has produced several entertaining remixes, one notable project being his remix of the Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Pt. II.
“With any art, you have to be inspired,” says BT, “you have to be honest.”
With a wise outlook, and the acquired knowledge of hands-on training from his time at SAE, BT helped to achieve the impossible with OB4CLII: engineering a project that justified a wave of hype which threatened to swallow it whole, sidestepped the ominous skepticism that mounted in the process, and more importantly, secured a reputation as rap’s finest epic sequel.
A better way to put it: finding the power to resurrect the dead.