For a decade, Taj Tashombe has made a name for himself as a branding executive who has worked with the likes of Erykah Badu and Skrillex. More recently, he has stepped up to the mic himself as an emerging R&B artist, with an album set to be released next year. Tashombe is gaining fans quickly while he continues to craft campaigns through his own branding agency, The Sui Generis Group. His background pairing artists with brands makes Tashombe careful and conscious about his personal style—which he describes as “contemporary classic”—and his musical choices, which he sees as a deliberate part of the legacy that he will leave behind. We sat down with Tashombe to learn his secrets to looking sharp, projecting confidence, and branding himself as a tastemaker.

Interview by Hannah Meit (@Hannahmeit)
Photography by Gari Lamar Askew II (@GASKEWII​)

What’s the first thing that you do in the morning?
I start my day off by rolling out of bed, literally, and onto the floor to start stretching. Remember stop, drop, and roll? It’s like that; it’s not like Pilates and yoga, it’s just stretching. And I use that time to meditate and prepare for the day. I’m not really a morning person so I need to ease into it.

What about your morning grooming habits?
I keep a shaved head, so I have to shave it every day to keep it fresh. I also have a short beard so there’s a lot of manscaping involved to keep it nice and crisp. I’m very cognizant of grooming and making sure that my look is always on target. Being bald-headed, you have to stay on top of it consistently. In addition to shaving, I moisturize it almost every day.

How does that play into your style?
Fortunately, we live in a time period where having a shaved head is cool, and looks good on most men who, either by choice or genetics, choose to routinely maintain a bald look. Initially, I started shaving my head as a style aesthetic, and liked the look and feel that it gave me. I actually felt more confident in that it represented me. Later, genetics came into the picture and, to offset having a shaved head and clean face, I wanted to create a juxtaposition, so I started growing out a well-groomed beard.

You have a single called “Tales of a Tastemaker,” which seems to be a mission statement for what you do. What qualifies someone as a tastemaker?
I think that, stereotypically, the outer aesthetic of a tastemaker is someone who is very flashy or has a lot of panache. And those attributes, for sure, are part of it, but to be quite honest with you, that is the tip of the iceberg. For me, “tastemaking” is all about owning your brand. Your brand is not your outer self; it’s what’s inside of you. People who become what they desire and dream about—those are tastemakers. From Albert Einstein to Russell Simmons, it doesn’t have a particular career path. It’s not just entertainment or music. It’s seeking and believing in your truth. It may look a different way on the surface, to an untrained eye, but that’s just to get your attention.

How would you describe your personal brand?
I think I would describe my personal brand as a contemporary classic. My clothing and presentation is very regal, influenced by The Rat Pack and that period of the 1960s. My brand is fine to sit in the day and age we live in, but rooted in classic inspiration. The beard and shaved head are all a part of my brand identity and maturity in appearance as I continue into my early 30s.

How does the “contemporary classic” theme play out in your look?
The staples of my wardrobe are American classics. I’m a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I will pair cardigan sweaters, which are so American and have been around for decades, with skinny jeans and vintage eyewear, so there are classic pieces with modern attributes. But I like to dress up, and so for my suits and winter clothes, I like to get things custom. The only way to get things custom is to make them timeless, so they can withstand the trends that change.

From your experience on the business side, what have you learned about crafting a persona as an artist?
I’ve seen artists portrayed in a way that is different from the way they are. I like to be transparent, so that what I am putting out there is actually who I am and I don’t have to be a chameleon. I’m very cautious about what I say on social media and what I post on Instagram to make sure that my persona reflects the truth.

Describe a typical day in your life.
My day consists of meetings all over L.A., a lot of time on my iPhone, and tons and tons of emails. I spend time with my daughter every day to make sure that I have the work-life balance in check. I try to make sure that I’m eating healthy. I like to work in the park or by the pool so I don’t feel like I’m trapped.

What’s something that you think most people don’t get about L.A.?
I’m representing this northeast element of L.A., which is Pasadena and downtown. People don’t realize that L.A. is a smorgasbord. There are so many opportunities, not just what relates to pop culture and trying to become a star. From the west side to downtown, there are so many different cultural centers here. There’s NoHo, there’s the Arts District downtown, and there is so much happening in Mid-City. L.A. has a huge cultural community that is unknown and under-serviced from the outside. I wish that people who are not familiar could come here and explore all of these different communities.

What do you think is unique about the style here?
I might get some flak for this, but I don’t get a lot of inspiration looking at trends here because our weather is so friendly that the template is basic. You can’t accessorize with a lot of fabric. There are a lot of open-toed shoes. With that being said, since style in the city can be very simple, it’s up to the transplant to bring the flavor from other areas. The classic California style for men is Chuck Taylors, Vans, and a nice pair of jeans. It doesn’t require an extensive wardrobe. I definitely dig that but I also like to turn it up and make it more interesting with nice printed shirts, and creating the opportunity for layering with thin shirts. I’m really into newsboy hats, sunglasses, and eyewear to make things pop.

What can you tell us about Pasadena? How does it drive you?
My neighborhood is cool. I’ve lived in L.A. for over a decade—in downtown, on the west side, by the beach. Now that I have a family, I wanted a slower place but I also wanted to be a stone’s throw away from where I need to be, which is downtown or in the studios in Burbank. I’ve lived in Old Town Pasadena for several years. It’s got a pedestrian and communal vibe that reminds me of my hometown, which is Oakland. You can walk around here and there are a lot of quality shops. Old Focals is one of my favorite boutiques in Pasadena. They’re well known in the entertainment industry for supplying movies and television shows with eyewear. They were the exclusive eyewear producer for Mad Men. I actually found them by walking down the street, and discovered a hidden gem that I now use in my videos.

What inspires you?
I’m 32 years old, so at this phase it’s all about preparation and making a mark towards a legacy. Music is heard for generations, so I try to think carefully about what I’m producing and what I’m leaving behind. The gift and the curse is making sure that you are putting work out there that can transcend time and inspire someone at a later stage of life.