We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Sébago Jean-Charles, a 28-year-old Haitian rapper based in Lake Arbor, Maryland, released his debut EP, Pink Tape, today, Feb. 14. The lyrics on the Valentine’s Day EP recount the rapper’s experiences—good and bad—with the women he’s been involved with in his life. And all of it is true.
“Everything pretty much word-for-word is stuff that really happened,” Sébago tells City Paper. “Now it’s time for people to hear it.”
Born in Haiti and now living in Lake Arbor, Sébago has been a musician since he was young. When he was in high school, he and his friends would freestyle together in their car and over the feel-good beats playing in H&M. And while Pink Tape might be Sébago’s debut EP, it’s hardly his first foray into professional music. In recent years, Sébago has been featured on the collaborative EPs We Working and Thank You, Lake Arbor! with fellow Lake Arbor artists GKD and JohnnyJon.
Sébago goes by the all-encompassing term “artist” because his sound combines aspects of several different genres. He’s inspired by music from the 2000s, particularly the blend of hip-hop, rap, and R&B of the era. He also takes inspiration from the drums and rhythm of Haitian kompa music. Blending so many different but interconnected genres on his EP, Sébago doesn’t easily fit into a particular style of music.
“I’ve pondered on that idea so much to where it’s like I almost don’t have a specific classification for it,” he says.
Artists such as Ja Rule, LL Cool J, and Dom Kennedy offered a bulk of inspiration, but Sébago’s influence for Pink Tape was Orchestre Tropicana d’Haïti and their popular song “Adrienne”—a song he claims every Haitian knows the lyrics to. He says that while these important musicians encouraged him to create, he tried to make an EP that’s true to himself and not a repeat of what’s been done before.
“These are people that I’ve definitely appreciated listening to,” Sébago says. “But I realized that, at the end of the day, when the EP comes out, it’s ‘Pink Tape by Sébago.’ I have to make Sébago music.”
What characterizes “Sébago” music, according to the artist, is how true it is to his life. His songs are products of real events. Since 2020, Sébago has used writing as a way to express his emotions over various experiences, especially romantic ones. Whether his relationships were good or bad, he used Pink Tape as a record of what happened. “Music became the journal I never knew I needed,” he says. “While singing in the studio I was realizing how much good it was doing me.”
“‘Sébago’ music is about staying as genuine as possible and being true to myself,” he adds. “Pink Tape is me at my most genuine.”
There’s a significance to the EP releasing on Valentine’s Day. A collection of love songs, Sébago views his tracks almost like love letters—except, in 2023, they wouldn’t be actual letters but text messages. The epistolary EP starts in reverse order with the track “Sincerely, Sébago,” and ends with the song “To You.”
“Sometimes the end brings new beginnings,” he says.
The love he shows extends beyond his human characters. The Maryland town Sébago calls home plays a huge role in his identity and the identity of Pink Tape. He not only helped write Thank You, Lake Arbor!, he also released Pink Tape through Lake Arbor Records, a label he started with JohnnyJon, who originally encouraged him to start writing and releasing his own music back in 2019, along with manager Big Homie. The city is even written into his music: “Sincerely, Sébago” references local businesses such as Scott’s Family Barbershop. “Lake Arbor is always on my mind,” he says.
And so is Haiti, it seems. Sébago moved to Maryland in 2010, when he was 15 years old, after a devastating earthquake forced his family to leave the country. Rhythm isn’t the only thing Sébago’s Haitian roots have given him. He still remembers what it was like to live in Haiti; he recalls showering with buckets of water and knowing people who hadn’t eaten in a week.
“I learned respect in Haiti. I learned how to treat people in Haiti. I learned what music is in Haiti,” Sébago says. “I always at some point mention that I’m Haitian. It’s everything.”
Haiti shaped Sébago’s priorities in life, and his humble perspective can be seen in his motivations for making music. He’s not concerned with what he can get out of music, but rather with what he can give through it. He hopes to make a contribution to art and that his work can spark new ideas in others, even as new ideas and projects come to him. Currently, he’s planning to release visual elements for Pink Tape and is considering live performances.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “I’m very happy about this first step. There’s definitely more music to come.”
Sébago’s Pink Tape is available for purchase via Lake Arbor Records. lakearborrecords.com. Pay What You Can.