by Eloise Kirn
Chris Omenihu is, by every definition, cool. He's a Hip-Hop and R&B artist who takes the stage at major bars, underground clubs and house parties in Austin. His hair, dreaded on the top and shaved on the sides, looks like The Weekend meets Justin Timberlake circa the 90s. The Texan tastemaker's clothes are a mismatch of high fashion and thrift store finds—outfits comprised of jeans, sweatpants, and nylon/neon prints. Chris' demeanor is passive yet perceptive, and when he speaks, he sounds like he does performing: as if you are a microphone to woo.
Now the editors of The Fool are not, by any means, cool. In fact, Sara and I are probably the opposite of cool. We are Midwestern white, slightly awkward and always overeager. We listen to the Billboard 100. In comparison to this MC and fashion designer, we look about as hip and happening as middle aged ladies in monochrome J-Jill. But for this interview, Chris welcomes us into his home with the same vibrancy and openness he does everyone. His accepting nature is forged from strongly-held beliefs; over the past few years Chris has become a bridge between diverse cultures, spaces and people in Austin, TX.
In 2015, Chris Omenihu founded Human Influence in order to create a platform on which to speak, sing and spread his message about cultural inclusivity. Since its inception, this "taste-making, creative community" has evolved to be a culmination of Chris's interests, shaped by his experiences in Austin. It is a clothing brand, radio and event platform whose mission is lofty:
Human Influence is a creative movement built to maximize your experiences
on Earth through vintage fashion, music, and collaborative events. Built by a
team of unique and progressive individuals, our sole purpose is to help humans
‘Maximizing your experiences on Earth' may sound ambitious for a crew of 10-20 people, but there is no limit to what Chris believes Human Influence can achieve. Perhaps this is the key to their success thus far. Chris says, "One thing I've been embracing is that I have good ideas, I have great taste, but most importantly, people our age really like the things me and my brand are standing for. The thing about Austin is that I've been here 4 years and there's been nothing I've come across that was meant for people that sounded or thought like me." Although Human Influence began as an outlet for Chris' own expression, it quickly became a platform for cultural convergence throughout Austin.
"It's not a black or white thing," Chris tells us. "It's just people. If all one shade or all one idea of people are in this room together, and no one has a problem with it, I can't be there. I get uncomfortable with the lack of perspective." Chris discusses his freshman year at UT Austin and the Dirty Sixth scene, where he never felt like he had a place or voice. ("So I'm in the midst of all this nonsense, and I'm just trying to dance!") Even in post-college life on the East Side, Chris has struggled with the lack of diversity. Now he hopes Human Influence can break that mold. "The vibe is like ‘what do you do' ‘I do this' ‘lets link up!' It's the energy I've been waiting for. Everyone's here."
Chris has certainly made a name for himself and his personal "vibe" around town. But he hopes to take their mission further: "With a global mindset we are striving to take the great things we are doing in Austin across the country and then the planet. Each one of those platforms [fashion, music, events] are some of the ways we are choosing to Express our style and outlook on life to people who care about us. […] Based on the feedback we've received we are on our way to becoming the leaders locally and then hopefully down the line globally of what we do."
For the time being, however, Human Influence is based out of Chris' house. The Fool got a look inside his bedroom, where racks of vintage clothing spread wall to wall. His DIY recording studio is composed of a few computers, an old-school TV and piano keyboard. We moseyed into his backyard, where he's hosted major Human Influence events, including one in which a projector was shown on the dilapidated house next door, days before it was demolished.
Sara and I interviewed Chris on his porch, which directly faces a cemetery in East Austin. On a dreary day in February, the three of us sat on sunken couches and looked out onto the rows of white slabs. Chris says the dead don't bother him, the view is just a reminder he's got one life to live, and one shot to give. We crossed our legs and scribbled this down on legal pads.
TF: How did Human Influence begin?
CO: The idea for Human Influence came in the summer of 2014. For me it was just going to be an excuse to sell vintage clothing. But I realized any idea—any good idea—starts off stupid or very bare-boned and then progressively it gets so much better. As time passes and you start doing more things within that idea, it starts grabbing new things. […] I was just playing with selling vintage clothes when a friend asked if me if I was going to put up my music up as well. I said DUH, but I was like wait that didn't even occur to me. Oh shit, I have to put my music now with the clothes! But the music wasn't ready yet, which was why it was easier begin by creating the brand.
TF: What was it like being a ‘musician without the music'?
CO: If you're a baker, and you've never presented someone your pastry, it's hard for people to believe you're a baker. That's what I was going through, I didn't have the tangibles to show people on the internet but I'd performed around town. […] By the end of 2014, I'd bought the website domain and opened up a Squarespace. I didn't know where to begin, other than the internet. Any time I'm doing something I don't know shit about, I go on Google and type in how to… blank. I just started.
Building the Platform
Human Influence started as a thrift store, became a music platform, then began hosting events. Now it's a taste-making, lifestyle movement that's hoping to bring people together, whether on the internet or in person. This evolution involved many small steps and big leaps of faith.
TF: The process of starting a platform is overwhelming and takes time. What are the main difficulties you faced?
CO: Any time you start something creatively, there are going to be people out there who try to pickpocket you. […] A lot of people in the creative industries are trying to tax you for things that are already free. Before you take off the landing strip, you're already in the red. And that shouldn't be the way it is.
TF: How did you build your platform while maintaining your personal vision?
CO: After the 25th, all kinds of people reached out and the group began to grow quickly. But at the end of the day, I'm making sure that it has my fingerprint on it. Because it's not crowd-sourced, everyone gets to express themselves, of course, and I want to inspire people to express their ideas and chase their dreams. But, on this platform, it has to be tasteful, it has to be compelling, and it has to be cool.
As you let the ball start rolling, once again, it's like grabbing new life, new ideas. You don't let your former mind hinder the potential growth. […] If everything that I thought about came to life, and only what I thought about came to life, I'd be limiting so much. So I realize, in doing, you're unearthing a lot of the unknown.
The Austin Community
TF: You talk about how Austin is not actually the liberal, open city people believe it to be. How do you feel you are influencing the community in a positive way?
CO: Austin is changing and regardless if I'm here or not, the technology is going to be here. The technology is going to grow. Regardless of if I'm here, condos are going to be built, high rises are going to be built. So it's like wait—if we feel like those are inevitable truths, why can't this creative pursuit and awakening be inevitable as well? So along with the collaboration and cohesion within the different creative pockets within the city, I realize once that really happens, especially our generation, we get it. We get that we can't do it all on our own. I realize there are secrets that you can't know on your own. But the truth is out! There's this whole mentality in Austin of keep everyone out. [Learning the secrets and acting] is my rebuttal for that.
Creative Obstacles: Jealousy, Resources, and Self-Doubt
CO: There's experience difference between you and I. But at the end of the day, we all want to get closer to the truth, we all want to have fun, we all want to do cool things. Throughout the course of life, there's no way we can do the same cool things. So it's ok for Austin to have ten different creative collectives because no one can see it the way I see it. It's ok for people to branch off and do their own things, because, at the end of the day, we're all trying to feel like we're at home.
The person who isn't creative or open-minded might see it like, ‘are there enough slices to go around?' of course. Of course. There's enough room for dope things. Just like with Hip-Hop music, which is going through a crab in the bucket syndrome, that ‘oh, the only way I can make it is if this person doesn't.' No! If your expression resonates with people, it's gonna resonate. No one's gonna be like, ‘man I really vibe with this person, but I can't vibe with too many people.' No one says that!
TF: What holds you back? What do you imagine holds others back from pursuing their own dreams?
CO: People are slaves to imaginary things. There's an imaginary cloud over them, and people use that as an excuse to not do something. But if you chase your dreams, your debts still going to be there. If you slave away paying off your debt, without having fun, without enjoying life, your debt is still going to be there. So why don't you have that debt looking at you while you're doing the things you want to do? I'm sure in the pursuit of happiness your debt will be erased. […] I'm sure any college student has debt, but that's not a big enough excuse not to pursue your dreams. ‘Oh, school is in the way!' Nah. I graduated school and I thought life was just going to open up. I was going to have more time for my music. No! It gets harder.
It sucks but just like anything, the more time you put into your skill, you'll decrease that distance. But with that being said, once you close that distance to zero—do you… die? No! You're not fulfilled. So it's never about the destination. It's never the destination. Cause that's probably just death. It's just an ongoing timeline. And there's no one place you want to be. It's not like, ‘oh I can't wait until I'm in New York and I'm writing for blah blah blah.' What happens when you're writing for blah blah blah? You don't stop. You keep going. So it's never, never about the destination. And that's what I've been trying to tell myself.
My friend Carlton says, ‘Let it cook. Just let it cook.' Human Influence had to cook just to get to the surface, and it had to cook to get to where it is now. So it's like once again, if I let my music career cook, if I do what I need to do, it's gonna be where I want it to be. Maybe not exactly where I've foreseen it, we're not Nostradamus, but it's gonna be where it needs to be if we just do the things we have to do and not rush it. Cause if we cut corners, it's gonna unfold on us.
Making the Jump
Last month Chris stopped working all together to pursue his music. That trust in himself paid off artistically and financially; a week prior to this interview he won $1,000 at Rap for a Stack, a rap competition at which he and 15 performed.
CO: I was like ‘I'm supposed to regret this decision. I'm supposed to be fearful of my future.' But I wasn't. Of course it creeps up on me sometimes. But I told myself ‘No. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself.' I knew I could win [Rap for a Stack] because of how much time I could put into it. […] It's not a luck thing. It's strategic. Like when a teacher says ‘only two people have gotten 100% on this test'—that doesn't mean anything to me. If I know the material, if I study, if I go to sleep, if I do these things well and I go to the test, what the person next to me is doing doesn't matter.
I was like ‘Oh snap, this is really real.' But it's always been real. And it's only that I was able to show people, on that day, that it's always been real to me. And a lot of what's been going on in my mind lately is wait—why am I supposed to doubt myself? Why am I supposed to think that someone on TV is better than what I'll ever be? I was just thinking to myself today, the amount of prodigies in the world hasn't increased. If anything, the amount of dumbasses and lazy people have increased! But we get caught up on the people who are doing it" [He mocks pulling out hair and freaking out at the TV]. It immobilizes you.
So I'm loosening this bonds, these chains of my mind. Like no, I have good things to say and the people around me have great things to say too. Just because they don't have the spotlight on them, doesn't mean they don't have the talent to have the spotlight on them. I used to get caught up in thinking that the resources around me weren't enough because they weren't making money off their craft or they weren't known around town for what they do. But being known and all that doesn't diminish the reality of being great at something. That's what I've been realizing, and it's like wait—I need to share this truth with people! Because there are a lot of dormant geniuses out there who may not have the platform or the network.
TF: How do you strive to improve?
CO: Just like flossing, I know what will happen if I consistently floss: my dental hygiene will improve. But for some reason, I don't feel like doing it. But I try to hit that weakness straight on- Just do it! I get inspired by greatness and jealousy. So I'm always trying to level up, level up. The first part of leveling up is being diligent, the repetition. It's overcoming the boredom, the laziness. Cause that's the part that no one sees. I'm trying to learn the piano but I haven't touched it in a week. But no one's going to see the C scales, they're only going to see the final product.
[…] Books and albums are just components of very small elements. Whether for me with music, it starts with listening to a beat, then putting words to them. And if you do it successfully, maybe 10, 12 times, you have an album. But it's just a bunch of sentences.
TF: What do you want people to take away from a Human Influence experience?
CO: I want them to transform into being a doer. Point blank. I'm trying to teach people how to fish and I'm learning in this moment right now. But again, there are a lot of dormant geniuses that just need to be kicked in the butt. […] Eventually I want people to turn off the computer or TV, even though they're looking at my stuff, and they go do what they're supposed to be doing. I realize even with the music, it's like ok I can listen to my influences and inspirations as much as I want, but that doesn't put pen to paper.
When there are more doers, there's less nonsense. When there are more doers, there's less noise. Just like Kanye- Kanye tweets something to Wiz Khalifa and there are millions of hash tags over it. And that's cause people are just sitting there eating popcorn, watching it. You know what Kanye is doing? He's making an album. There's only one winner. It's the person doing.
Advice from Chris
- On organizing a major event: "It's not that daunting when you're focused on one task at a time. You start with the information you need then you just break it down. It's not complicated, but it's not easy—cause then everyone would do it. But turning people into doers. And once you become a doer you're not focused on ‘ah there's so much left!', you're focused on the page in front of you."
- On creating a brand: "If you're really trying to connect with people, you've got to bring it down to their level. So you've got to do with what's catchy. That's same with music—you've got to do something that's familiar to people, yet different. Something they relate to you specifically."
- On sticking with it: "It's not about instant gratification, it's about how many attempts you take and the time you put in. The best baseball players hit the ball 3 out of 10 times. What. A lot of artists are only considered great artists after one piece of work. And that one moment is created after lots of moments and attempts."
- Final words: "Stop saying ‘I'm trying to' or ‘I can't' or 'I wanna be a writer, singer, etc.' Just be it. Own it!"