There are times when I meet a person, and just know that I need to tell his or her story. Such was the case when my two sons and I went on an adventure to put up posters in what I consider some of the city’s finest hip hop-based stores/shops, places like Beatbox Records, Avenue619 (both in SouthEast and Logan) and The FreshYard. We began our journey, though, in the humble, yet mighty headquarters of Human Catalyst. I had learned of this interest-piquing brand via Odessa Kane, and decided to find out more. My boys and I just made it in to the shop right before closing, and Russell Takashima and a couple of friends were chopping it up. The three were super warm in welcoming us in and his friends popped outside while Malakai and Shepherd commandeered the vintage airplane/spaceship ride while I spoke with the Russell, the owner, operator, designer, etc. We bounced questions back and forth and somewhere amid the barrage of questions I was hurtling at him, I decided that Russell, and Human Catalyst, had to be this week’s #WestCoastWednesday interviewee.
Often times in hip hop, what we wear is truly who we are. How a person/artist presents him/herself to the world often speaks of how he/she really views him/herself, even though pop rap might paint a different picture. Fashion and the persona it helps to shape, has been and always will be, a huge element in hip hop culture. So please enjoy hearing about how Russell Takashima and Human Catalyst are creating the uniform for SD’s substantive hip hop culture, and why you should care about supporting local artists/artisans.
SDLHH: Who is Russell Takashima and what is Human Catalyst?
Russell: I am a 4th Generation Japanese American, born and raised in San Diego. My most important roles are being a husband and father. I am also the person behind the brand, Human Catalyst. The name, Human Catalyst, is based on the concept that a person can create change in others. I believe that there are people that you come across that can change your entire outlook, and shift your life’s direction.
SDLHH: Human Catalyst is a streetwear brand, and streetwear and hip hop are pretty much inseparable; I actually learned of HC through Odessa Kane’s social media presence, which sort of validates my previous statement. Can you tell SDLHH a story about how hip hop has changed your life? Perhaps how it has shaped the brand and your approach to fashion/design?
Russell: I feel that streetwear is and always has been the un-official uniform of hip hop. The hip hop elements have always been what I was interested in. I remember my days growing up in the culture, you were either a DJ, B-Boy, Graf Writer, or a Gangster. No matter where we were or what we did, hip hop has always been our soundtrack. I don’t think I can pinpoint a specific instance of when or how it has shaped me, but it is definitely within the fabric of who I am. I would definitely say that it shapes the brand. The people of this culture are who I am making this brand for.
SDLHH: When you were describing HC, you mentioned how meeting/interacting with others can sometimes be a catalyst for change in one’s life. Do you have an example of someone (outside of hip hop since you just shared about that) whose presence worked as a catalyst for change in your life?
Russell: I would say without a doubt that others can be a catalyst for change in one’s life. I have come across a handful of people that have been major influencers in my life. I remember when I saw L-R-G for the first time, it completely blew my mind. I was captivated right away by the way that they were able to design with a “Graf Eye” in a way that I hadn’t seen at the time. I would say it was smart “street influenced” design. Jonas Bevacqua of L-R-G (Rest In Peace) was definitely a major Catalyst in my life. I would meet him years later, but his early vision and execution has definitely been a HUGE influence on me. When I came across L-R-G, it showed me a new way to use my skillset. I think after that I put down the black book and pilot pens and traded them in for Adobe Illustrator.
SDLHH: That’s dope. I’m sure that every fan of hip hop is familiar with L-R-G. As we spoke the other day, you shared that you even went on to work for the brand that you admired so much. What was it like to work with such an iconic brand in both the streetwear world and in hip hop.
Russell: It was an amazing opportunity and experience. It is crazy to see the inner workings of somewhere you have always been a fan of.
SDLHH: What are some lessons you learned being at such a big/successful company? What is something you have made sure to incorporate in your brand?
Russell: The single most important thing that they taught me was to make what you like. Design what you like, and not what you think people will like.
SDLHH: After all of your answers up to this point, I can’t help but see our two brands as like-minded – the tagline for SDLHH is, “a conversation on hip hop as a catalyst for change.” I am curious, how do you hope that Human Catalyst might change people’s lives, might change the world? Do you have an example, big or small, of a way that you have seen the power of your message affect change?
Russell: With Human Catalyst, I feel that it is important that the brand is morally and ethically different than what is out there. I don’t push drugs and sex to sell my clothes. It just isn’t what we are about. I want to push clean designs. The big picture is that I hope Human Catalyst can find it’s way to someone out there. Either as a brand they can stand behind, or even as a Catalyst to their own creativity. I just want to let people know that there are alternatives to what these mall stores and hype sites are showing us. People just need to dig.
SDLHH: Man. “People just need to dig.” I feel like I am ALWAYS saying that on the music end too. Especially when Golden Era fans or purists say that there’s nothing worth listening to now! Thanks for that; I guess I’ve never thought about that on a design tip before.
One of the most beautiful components of hip hop culture, to me, is its ability to create connections between people. For example, your Dave Kinsey poster created space for us to have a conversation, which connected us through a mutual friend, Joseph Kraft (of Invisible God and Wow Wow Waffle), who is hip hop to his core, from dance, to art, to music, etc. Are there any stories of how your brand, Human Catalyst, has connected you to people you never would have imagined getting to know/befriend?
Russell: Before I opened my store it was much different for me. I have always been the guy behind the computer. When I opened my storefront, I had no choice but to come out from behind the screen. It was a HUGE transition for me. It forced me to talk and actually meet people. That has been an amazing experience. I have had some amazing conversations with people that have walked through my doors. Everyone has a story and you would be surprised how many people are just looking for someone to share that with.
SDLHH: That is really refreshing to hear; as I process your response, I can’t help also thinking about the artist who serendipitously connected us, Odessa Kane. How did you two meet? What are your thoughts on his music and movement? Why does his brand of hip hop, and Human Catalyst make sense together?
Russell: I met Odessa Kane actually through family. Our wives are family friends and we have daughters that are close in age. So I would say I am lucky that I know the man behind Odessa Kane and am a fan of the artist. I am always moved by his passion in his music. His verses are very well thought out and delivered with precision. I think in a world full of nonsense emcees, it is a breath of fresh air to hear a message that you can be down with. I am proud to support Odessa Kane on so many levels. His work ethic and drive is a huge inspiration. His brand of hip hop makes sense because he is about change. He makes you stop and think twice about what we are being told. I like that.
SDLHH: So, you’ve recently opened up the HCatalyst Concept Store. But it obviously wasn’t an overnight whim. Can you tell readers a bit of the backstory that has landed you in a brick and mortar store, creating, producing and selling your brand, as well as providing a space for community events?
Russell: The Concept Store was a long time dream. When I had the opportunity to open up a store in my own community I jumped on it. I feel like the stars lined up and the doors opened for me to be where I am at.
I had an online store, but I felt like their was a void between me and the consumers. At the end of the day, the hustle is about selling clothes to keep the doors open, but the real value is in the Human Connections that are made within the walls. My goal is that through the store I can bring light to the community. A place where all are welcome and I can help lift the block up in any way that I can.
SDLHH: That’s dope. I’m excited to see where that sort of approach takes you and HC, and to see how the community is positively impacted. What has been the best part of your journey with Human Catalyst so far? Why?
Russell: I would have to say the best part has been the journey itself. From the personal growth to the relationships that have been made. It definitely has been a great experience so far.
SDLHH: What’s something you’d like to share with San Diego’s hip hop scene?
Russell: I am super excited for hip hop in SD. I feel like there are a lot of small movements going on. B-Boy movements, Graf Movements, Emcees, etc. I hope that the city can unite more often so these little movements can come together to make big waves.
SDLHH: One emphasis of SDLHH is to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego Hip Hop community. Can you point to some other contributors to the culture, specifically in the design/fashion niche, who you see as comrades and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?
Russell: I think we live in a time where there are a lot of options for people, but I think it is important to support local, and the ones that support our culture. We have some great stores out here that have always supported the culture. Stores like The Freshyard, 5 & a Dime, Applause, and so many more.
Support the local artists and talent in SD. We have a lot to offer that can’t be found in these chain stores.
SDLHH: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?
Russell: Follow us @humancatalyst on instagram or come by the store anytime. I would love to connect.
Peace, Love & Hip Hop,
#SDLovesHipHop exists to carry on a conversation about hip hop music and culture as a catalyst to effect change in individuals’ lives and communities. If any of the artists above, or this article has struck a chord in you, then please leave a comment.