BT Rockwell is an author, producer, and audio engineer who spent years with the legendary Wu Tang Clan, chiefly with one of its star MCs, Raekwon the Chef. He helped produce, record, mix, and arrange Raekwon’s instant classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II which iTunes and TIME magazine both hailed as the best Hip Hop album of 2009. Rockwell wrote his debut book, Burn Me Up Fast (January 1st, 2015), from the road, his music studio in Brooklyn, and his apartment in downtown Manhattan, to create an authentic and commercially relatable glimpse of one intelligent hustler’s journey in today’s big (rotten) apple.
For more on BT, please visit his website.
Q&A With BT Rockwell
MEDIA CONNECT: You’ve worked with Hip Hop legends like Raekwon and Wu Tang Clan. How did your experience as a producer and audio engineer influence Burn Me Up Fast and the main character, Byron Bella?
BT Rockwell: I love music. It's a huge part of my life. Therefore, I was intent on making Byron an avid music-lover and making Burn Me Up Fast as musical as possible. This was an interesting challenge for me as music is heard through speakers and not on a page. But I did notice that there are strong similarities between making an album and a novel. A song is a scene. An album is a novel. Both require creativity, imagination, and tedious editing to make the project flawless. As for my time with Raekwon the Chef, it allowed me to see how a successful professional demands excellence and an extreme work ethic. He showed me the difference between a hobby and a career.
MC: Are any parts of Burn Me Up Fast based on your firsthand experiences in the music world?
BR: Living in NYC I‘ve certainly been to my share of parties, bars, and clubs. Byron also has these experiences in his life. I also had my own production studio in Brooklyn for many years. So I would say that the scene that takes place at “Puff Tuff Studios” was definitely an homage to my endless hours working in my studio. Thugs, nerds, jokes, and deep concepts—all were welcome.
MC: In the book Byron has a unique relationship to drugs. What is that relationship and how do you address drugs in youth culture?
BR: Byron's relationship with drugs is complex. He likes them. They give him comfort. They can numb the pain. They can kill time. They can take him to new and exciting places as well. But with every day that passes, he sees the dark side of drug abuse that he was once ignorant to. As for drug use among youth culture—this is also complex. Putting all drugs under one umbrella is very dangerous. Some can bring joy with very small negative side effects. Others, as the book shows in detail, can quickly lead to negative consequences. They don't have to, but often do.
MC: We often see drug culture played out in a polarizing way in the media. How does Burn Me Up Fast agree with or refute that?
BR: With pot use specifically, although funny at times, I’ve always thought the way it’s been portrayed in music, TV, and movies is clichéd and played out. I wanted to show a real, authentic look of marijuana use beyond the jokes. To show the details of strains and how it's done today. And that pot smokers can think deeply and have real feelings.
MC: What role does marijuana play in the book?
BR: Mary Jane plays a huge role in this book, as one can see by the cover. It’s clearly playing a big role in society right now, as well. Many people from youths to older generations smoke it. Vapor it. Eat it. Drink it. With that said, states are beginning to legalize the plant. For Byron and his counterpart Primo, the fact that it is illegal brings a sketchiness and danger to their lives that is probably unnecessary.
MC: In what ways is Byron a universal character with universal struggles?
BR: Byron is flawed. This is one of the first rules you learn when creating a main character. He is smart and likable, but he has issues. As does his best friend and kindred spirit, Primo. They both are, albeit in their late 20s, coming of age. What is the meaning of life? What should one do with their limited time on this planet? The questions they’re pondering have been pondered since the days of our ancestors. Not just by philosophers, but by everyday people. It’s the human experience.
MC: There are many multi-faith, multi-ethnic components to the characters in the book. What role does diversity, and at times resulting adversity, play in the book?
BR: I live in one of the most diverse places in the world—New York City. It’s a part of my soul. I’m also a Jew. Not a practicing one, but I grew up learning the teachings of the religion. When I was in my 20s, a good friend introduced me to the teachings of the Tao, Confucius, and the Buddha. It really piqued my interest. Of course, RZA and other Wu Tang members are also influenced by the Tao. I am not a very religious person, but spirituality is a whole other ball of wax. My main character, Byron, is intrigued, yet confused by spirituality and words like ‘faith.’
MC: What are the three main themes in Burn Me Up Fast?
BR: The most paramount theme I wanted to convey in Burn Me Up Fast is: Don't let your fears hold you back. If you’re a dreamer—if you have dreams of doing something with your life—don't let fear be the thing that stops you. Paulo Coelho's masterpiece, The Alchemist, does an amazing job driving this point home. I pray I did the same.
Byron is a writer… in his head, that is. He’s afraid to show anyone his writing. He's afraid of change. Of life as a whole in many ways. Fears are something I and everyone else has to deal with. But always remember: Fears are prisons to be freed from.
The second theme is that harder drugs and gun use can quickly lead to trouble, pain, and premature death. Recreational drug use is one thing. But when one becomes a true abuser of powders, pills, and firearms, darker days could be right around the corner.
My third theme is maybe the most vague and, to some, the most obvious. But love rules all. Love is what makes life worth living. Loving and helping each other through tough times will make the world a better place for all of us.
MC: What was the catalyst that caused Byron to want to find himself and evolve?
BR: Byron was always a deep thinker. But the clear catalyst for change in his life was death. The death of his baby brother Willis shook him to his core. He knew that his brother's life was taken, however, his was not. Perhaps he felt the need to change for his brother. Or perhaps it was the somber kick in the butt he needed to make the change for himself.
MC: For those looking to get involved in the drug culture, is this book a cautionary tale?
BR: Sure, this is a cautionary tale. But I doubt those looking to get involved with drug culture will be swayed by this book alone.
MC: Burn Me Up Fast is very New York City-centric, and you’ve referred to New York City as “The Rotten Apple.” How does the setting play on Byron’s struggles?
BR: I love being in one of the Meccas of the entire world. It has ideas, music, and culture to no end. This is my city. With that said, it is expensive and quite stressful at times. Maybe one day I'll find myself saying, “I wanna live on an island and get away from this dirty shit hole.” As for Byron, he feels that stress and craziness that the city puts out. It's fast-paced and wild. But he really doesn't know any other way to live.
MC: Will there be a sequel? What can readers expect next from BT Rockwell?
BR: I've had requests for a sequel, although with the ending I’ve created it's hard to imagine how I would add to this specific tale. I have another story called Blood Sucker ready to go. I love it. It is also a modern day city story with grit, drugs, and whores. But it is balanced with existential thought and love. They say: Write what you know!
Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power, said Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu. He also said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
Both statements are true for Byron Bella, a high-grade pot dealer and music lover in his late twenties who embarks on a journey to master his fears and grow into what he truly wants to be: an author. For him, burning the blunt at both ends is a way of life. The death of his little brother sparks a quest of self-discovery that leads him to reevaluate who he is, who his friends are, and to finally decide if he’s brave enough to put down the blunt and pick up a pen. Will he be able to let go of his illicit lifestyle, or will it finally catch up with him?
In his debut book, BURN ME UP FAST (January 1st, 2015), audio producer and engineer for legendary Hip Hop artists – like Raekwon and members of the Wu Tang Clan – BT Rockwell picks up the pen to lead readers through a coming of age story that captures universal themes: growing up, the dark side of youth culture, gritty urban life, and overcoming fear to embrace your dreams and to open yourself to love.
Set in New York City, the heart of the Hip Hop scene, readers can get a glimpse of what the darker sides of urban youth culture is really like from an author who has seen it firsthand from his success in the music industry.
Burn Me Up Fast is foremost an introspective, thought-provoking novel, taking place in a fast-paced world filled with drugs and parties, fear and guns, life lessons and, ultimately, love.
On multi-faith religion
“[Taoism] is a way of life. A certain way you carry yourself. In my case, it helped me to find inner peace and strength. That then led to personal success and happiness.”
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