Students form rap group with local artists

Seniors Terence Einhorn (left) and Adam Kriegel (right) work on their forthcoming E.P. (credit: Courtesy of HDJ Photography) Seniors Terence Einhorn (left) and Adam Kriegel (right) work on their forthcoming E.P. (credit: Courtesy of HDJ Photography)

Seniors Terence Einhorn, majoring in Chinese and decision science, and Adam Kriegel, majoring in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in audio engineering, have found the secret to remaining sane under the pressures of their coursework. Their unlikely partnership as The Rhythm Thief, a jazz-infused hip-hop experiment incorporating the work of local rappers and artists, provides an outlet for them to escape the grind of classes and academic responsibility.

On Feb. 10, the group will release its first E.P. entitled 5234 Forbes Avenue, a five-song collaboration with local Pittsburgh group Heroes & Terrorists, better known as H&T, which includes Carnegie Mellon sophomore business administration major Kai Roberts.

Einhorn and Kriegel met as first-years and began making music together by the time they were sophomores. During their junior years, they moved into 5234 Forbes Avenue, the house which their E.P.’s name honors. According to Kriegel, they began dabbling in hip-hop as seniors because it was the simplest form of music for them to create as amateurs. However, this frame of mind quickly expanded as they explored the genre.

“As we started to get more advanced, all of us started to realize that hip-hop could be a pretty serious art form,” Kriegel said. Their respect for the intricacies of creating memorable beats is apparent in the layered songs on the E.P.

The name “The Rhythm Thief” derives from the first track of a Sparks album that tells the story of a mythical demon thief stealing the beats out of songs.

“The idea is so genius; this tiny, little, crazy dude stealing instruments from people,” Einhorn said. Although he admits he never really knew what the song was about, he wanted to represent this idea. “It’s not me, it’s my sound,” he explained. Einhorn had always worked under this name, so when he and Kriegel created the project, they assumed the title by default.

When working together, they represent the opposite sides of a spectrum: Kriegel compared Einhorn to a cook or a chef, while he assumed the role of a food chemist. Kriegel looks at the frequencies and qualities of noise, performing tasks in the very beginning and end of the process. Setting up, mastering, and editing all fall under his role as audio engineer.

“You’re looking for a specific sound,” Kriegel explained. “You have to make sure it’s ready for radio play, ear buds, a person’s phone walking down the streets, radios.”

According to the duo, the countless number of uncertainties demanded attention to detail in order to eliminate audio problems. They made an analogy to a goalkeeper: The audience only notices him when he’s doing a bad job. Using this as a guideline for their music, they knew that a song was complete only when they could no longer hear flaws in it.

While Kriegel works to lay down the beginning pieces of a song, Einhorn adds the instrumentation. His musical background in jazz enables him to compose using saxophone, flute, clarinet, guitar, and bass. They emphasized the fact that they do not use any sampling in their tracks, calling it a “cheap art form.” Many of the instrumentals are live recordings of Einhorn playing one of the instruments from his repertoire. He said that he continues to learn whatever instrument he can get his hands on.

As they work together, each puts layer upon layer into a piece, one at a time. They use what they call a model of regression, switching off working on a song until they reach a conversion point where they’re happy with what they have produced. Some tunes seem to come quickly and naturally, while others can take as long as several months to finalize.

The addition of H&T, a local hip-hop group that includes Roberts, Anthony Fulton, Bilil Abbey, and Mike Combes, adds a distinctive and essential element to their music. For Einhorn and Kriegel, it was a completely different but welcoming world. “We hadn’t been exposed to people of their talent or level before,” they explained, nor had they ever worked with rappers before. When writing verses to use on a track, the two groups collaborated to figure out its meaning. One of the most prominently featured members of H&T is Fulton, also known as Alumni, who was essential in writing several of the tracks.

The Rhythm Thief recorded its album at 5234 Forbes Avenue. “The house has some definite spirit — it’s perfect for creation,” Einhorn said. Kriegel agreed that there’s a definite ambience to the house, and that the two of them are always in a state of creation. The accessibility of their present (admittedly limited) equipment allowed them to take the time to experiment and record when they were struck with inspiration.

Kriegel and Einhorn are considering continuing to work with H&T to create a complete album, depending on the success of the E.P. The group can be found on Facebook and Soundcloud, and a free download of 5234 Forbes Avenue will be available Feb. 10.