Alternative Rap and Vulnerability: A Conversation with Etan Sutef

Welcome, music lovers, to this transient and interesting interview on Paper Koi. I had the privilege of sitting down with a remarkable artist who has been contributing the alternative rap scene. Allow me to introduce you to the talented Haitian-American rapper known as “Etan Sutef” (Etan is pronounced like “Eden”). I delved into his musical catalog, discovering a treasure trove of thought-provoking lyrics and bewitching beats. It was clear that this was an artist with a profound passion for his craft. We have the incredible opportunity to delve deeper into the artistic world of Etan Sutef. Join me as we explore his unique fusion of alternative rap, sonder-inspired storytelling, and Haitian influences. We will discuss his journey as an artist, the inspiration behind his music, and his personal note on Mental Health. So sit back, relax, and prepare to be captivated by the words and melodies of Etan Sutef. Enjoy! 

Etan Sutef [Photo Taken By: @elizabethscott.cp & Cover Art By: @_ssaint9]

G-Mentalityy: I am here with Etan Sutef. You know the vibes.  

Etan Sutef: I know the vibes.  

G: Let’s get into your background. Where are you from?  

E: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY,  

G: Period. 

E: You already know, the best borough alive. 

G: Exactly. 

E: My parents are from Haiti, so I’m Haitian-American, first generation. I’m the youngest of three. I’m the only boy.  

G: Can you recall your earliest memory involving your interest in rap music?  

E: I started rapping because of my cousins. All three of them, [are] nice as hell. When we were younger, we’d attend family events and we would playfully have a freestyle, it’s comedy. Even the uncles were freestyling, the old Haitian men freestyling, everybody. They would imitate other rappers like my cousin, “Coast D” would rap like DMX, like the whole nine, and then my other cousin would rap like Lil Kim. This was when I was like 6 [years old] going all the way to when I got into high school. My cousins are older than me, about four or five years, so they started making music earlier [than me]. My cousin got his first mic on his birthday, and I recorded my first verse, it was so terrible. We used to freestyle as kids in the same apartment. I didn’t grow up with brothers, so he would be like my brother [growing up] and we would be freestyling to 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, like old joints, and keep going… like I’m talking about hours.  

G: Can you recall when you wanted to take up rap music?   

E: I think it was when I got to high school. I met my boy, Zay, our sophomore and junior year, and we were freestyling—this is [around] that time everybody’s going to SoHo and all that. You know that time? That “Stüssy” time… Bape, Ice Cream, all that jazz. One day in the summertime, we would just walk around and we just freestyle, and he’s like, “You nice! We should start a rap group, me and you”. We were with our boy Tariq, our boy T. He said, “Ya’ll should do that shit”, so I was like, “Oh, fuck it!” After that, it started off with two rappers and one producer. Then we ended up with six. We had four rappers and two producers. Remember, this is also the time of like ‘Pro Era” and “Flatbush Zombies”…so the momentum [with] the crews were really going! “A$AP Mob” is hot, “Underachievers” was hot… and all of them were from the city, so like why not? They can do it. Why can’t we? We recorded our first song over a Fugees beat called “We Introduce You”. Yo, that shit was terrible [laughs].  

G: I know what you mean, like before—  

E: Before I knew who I was… Before any of us knew who we were.  

Etan Sutef [Photo Taken By: @elizabethscott.cp ]

G: Okay, great! It sounds like freestyling and being creative on the fly was a heavy theme during your formative years. I watched your live performance, and you proudly boxed yourself into alternative rap and r&b. The R&B part did catch me off guard, ‘cause I haven’t heard you singing on anything yet… What is it about alternative rap that resonates with you, why does that sound?  

E: Certain sounds just speak to you a lot more than others. I love hip hop; I love rap, but as a person, I think it speaks to my nature; I’m not a person who likes to be in the limelight. Even though I am a rapper and I perform. On the day-to-day, I feel like Alternative Rap has its own lane, it has its own cadence and its own people. You just be like… Have you ever heard Earl Sweatshirt say some shit and you’d be like, “…”?  

G: I will be honest, I know exactly who he is, but I don’t really listen to him… 

E: You got to, you got to… too alternative?  

G: Just a smidge, I’m into Alternative R&B though.  

E: Okay, you know Mick Jenkins?  

G: Yes, I don’t listen to him either.  

E: He’s dope.  

G: I know who he is! His features… you know?  

E: Nice! I feel like the essence of [alternative] rap comes from that… You still see people’s style, but it’s full of character, full of color.  

G: You feel like Alternative Rap is that realm where you can express that color?  

E: Literally, yeah. Alternative rap is that realm where you can express that. There’s this artist I like, his name is Mavi. He was like he said some shit like, “I make the songs you gotta read, baby”. I was like, that’s a fact. We listen to music, but we don’t really listen. That’s how I feel…and I started off as a poet before I rapped.  

G: This makes sense. I was going to ask you, do you enjoy poetry? 

E: I enjoy poetry. I love poetry. I love hearing it. I’m definitely the person who will listen to anybody [who] goes up on that stage and push their best and push their all into that. I love slam [poetry] because it’s like acting with poetry, you know? You feel their ability to draw out their emotions.  

G: I love asking creatives this question, especially first-generation. What did your family think about you delving into rap?  

E: [Laughs] 

G: Why? What’s funny? 

E: Because you know exactly how that conversation went! [Laughs] Both my parents are Haitian, so my mom was not with that shit. She knew that my older cousins rap. I try to put it in different ways… “My mom wanna sing”, “I wanna do this”… She was like, “No negro. You gon’ go to school. You gonna become a lawyer, a doctor”, some shit. My dad is actually the most supportive one. He’s always been like, “Yo, what are you doing?”. But yeah, my mom was not with that. After a while, You just don’t tell them anything. Do you know what I’m saying?  

G: I went to this Haitian Creatives Mixer, and there was this dope panel of Haitian Creatives. [list them? Find them on Ig] During the Panel’s Q&A, I asked how you deal with being creative within the family, and I shared a similar story to yours. They gave me interesting advice, but overall I enjoyed the event. [shout out? Post videos on PK grid] I feel like as I get older, I don’t want to lie or just not say anything anymore. It’s almost counteracting what’s meant to be for me. Do you see yourself opening up about it?  

E: To my parents? No. 

G: That’s okay. I was able to go through your projects and I noticed that Many of your lyrics touch on open, sensitive, and dark themes, like songs like “Vulnerability”, and “Acid” —What motivates you to share these stories with your audience? 

E: They’re my stories. I have issues with being vulnerable, just on the regular talking tip. I mean— I’m getting better at it now, but like deep down… I just don’t like talking about shit I go through; the only way I know how to do that is through music. I also learned to realize, like as an artist, sharing myself is how I relate to you everyone, you know what I’m saying? Especially “Acid”, “Acid” is my shit. That was the most I’ve been so detailed about my personal life… I don’t like anybody really knowing me, I don’t.  

Etans Sutef [Photo Taken By: @elizabethscott.cp ]

G: You’re an Aquarius, right?  

E: Yea- Woah? We’re doing THIS? 

G: I mean that was very Aquarius of you… that was a very Aquarius thing to say… 

E: In an interview? That’s crazy to me! Wild!? 

G: Yeah! So your projects often dealt with complexities of mental health and emotional struggles. How do you think your music can impact listeners who may be going through similar experiences?  

E: I think the main thing I feel like any Artist would feel Is the fact that… you’re not alone.  

G: Okay. Your storytelling is interesting and vivid, you know? There’s a lot of vulnerability there. Do you ever get afraid you’ll be type-casted as a “Sad Boy”?  

E: You know what’s funny? I used to think that. Especially [since] all my songs that I’ve released before my project on YouTube [and other streaming platforms], all of those are like all of those are my story, I was in a dark place at all of those times.  

[photos of all his projects]  

G: Yeah, you transmuted the pain into music—  

E: Yes and to answer your question, no.  

G: Circling back to Alternative R&B. Why create an affinity for it? Who do you enjoy from that music space? I notice you’ve referenced Summer Walker in your past work.  

E: Along the way, as you study rappers, you just kind of like…freestyle. You find the beats you like and you have the kind of music that goes with your voice. I like freestyling to that kind of music, my voice resonated with those kinds of tempos. Like Summer Walker’s first album [EP] was amazing! It was genuine.  

G: Clear [EP] too!  

E: Right. Alternative R&B just fits my “mode”. 

G: What was your favorite part of creating “Bury Me In Flowers”?  

E: Living life and piecing it all together.  

“Bury Me In Flowers” EP by Etan Sutef
[Released April 7th, 2023]

G: Using your life as inspiration, okay. What’s your favorite song from it?  

E: I like all of them… it has to be “Acid”. 

G: Was “Acid” the song you pushed yourself the most on?  

E: Yeah, technique-wise. I think it’s also the song that I found myself a lot more, rap-wise, as well.  

G: Who are some of your biggest musical influences and how have they impacted your work?  

E: I’m always going to say my cousins because they’re all dynamic in different ways. I love them; they’re so creative and so talented, man. Their work ethic is insane! I have to give props to Mick Jenkins, West Side Boogie, Andre 3-Stacks, Wale… I love you, Sir.  

G: You know what’s crazy? I didn’t know Sir until he opened up for Miguel. I heard him live and downloaded the album, off-rip… while I’m in the crowd. He needs more respect in the male R&B realm. 

E: He does!  

G: Do you listen to female rappers?  

E: Yes I do.  

G: Who is a female rapper you enjoy?  

E: I like Flo Milli. I like Rhapsody a lot. 

G: N*ggas love Rhapsody. 

E: ‘Cause she is spittin’ son!  

G: I don’t think she’s *not* spittin’.  

E: A Brooklyn rapper, Diana. She’s dope. Then after that, my baby Megan thee Stallion.  

G: She’s a representation. Alright… In exciting news, we’re almost at the conclusion of our interview. I’d like to ask you one last question regarding your artistry. What message do you hope your listeners will take away from your music? 

E: It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to feel your emotions. It’s okay to overthink.  

G: Is it? I’ve been told the opposite. 

E: Yeah, I learned to realize if you overthink a lot that’s maybe just your process. My manager taught me that, it’s just [part of] your process. Don’t get me wrong, you will fry yourself, but there is clarity after the smoke. Also, if you need help with processing, just write it out. Overthinking is just scattered thoughts, so just [add] structure.  

G: This is interesting news as a fellow over-thinker. Thanks for sharing some insight regarding mental health. May is also Haitian Heritage Month! I’m curious to know what’s your favorite thing about being Haitian?  

E: The music and the language. I think people are so excited to listen to Afrobeat and listen to reggae, but we don’t really get the love we should.  

G: Not yet, but I think it’s coming. It’s creeping in, lowkey. 

E: —but at the same time, I don’t want them to realize it. ‘Cause then they’ll overdo it.  

G: It’s tricky.  

E: I’m a big gatekeeper.  

G: I respect it.  

E: To an extent.  

G: How are you going to celebrate being a Haitian this month?  

E: I have been learning Kreyol much more. I don’t speak it as much… I’m the youngest, so like it wasn’t really spoken about around me. I am playing Haitian music in the crib though.  

G: How has your Haitian heritage influenced your music, both in terms of style and lyrics? 

E: I freestyled “Lamou,” the whole thing. I made it with my cousin Alex. I think when I listen to Haitian music, don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of dramatic. Even the videos [laughs], but I think it’s a perfect representation of how those emotions are… how love is— what will it make you do, what will make you say. When I listen to Haitian music, I feel l like love is desperate. 

G: I feel like you mean the word “devotional”, I think I know what you meant. I love KAYTRANADA, I love how he’s able to add small elements of his Haitian heritage into his music. Are there other Haitians in the industry [you may] look up to at all?  

E: Modern Wise? No. I’m old school. I’m listening to Alan Cavé. T-Vice, I love T-Vice—  

G: but they don’t have to make Haitian music. I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Wyclef. 

E: I don’t like Wyclef.  

G: I thought I was the only person to side-eye him. I mean, The Fugees, are dope. When he was single, there was a fire there, I’m not gonna front. The Earthquake happened and the “We are the World” … but, as I got older… I’m not gonna diminish his hard work, especially as a Haitian. I did get older and appreciate what he’s done. I feel like without Wyclef Jean, we wouldn’t have Chance the Rapper, and this might be a little controversial, but we also wouldn’t have Young Thug either.  

E: That is a hot take. I can’t respond to that yet. I have to get back to you on that, but I think I can see where you’re going with that. I think see why… 

G: I mean, you don’t have to trust me. I know what I hear! Thanks to Wyclef. HAITIANS!  

E: I give him his flowers. He’s paved the way. He’s definitely an influence.  

G: Can you share any Haitian music or musicians that you think the audience should check out?  

E: My favorite song is by Jackito, “Annabelle”. My favorite Alan Cavé, “Bom we Lamou”. 

G: You’re really a gramoun [old person] … We’re going to conclude this interview on a whimsical note. Let’s get into the fun questions. What’s your Zodiac sign? Say with your chest.  

E: I’m an Aquarius. I’m money.  

G: OK, what’s the most Aquarius thing that you do? 

E: I would say, I can be very cold. I get detached, I don’t like feeling my emotions, you know what I’m saying? I feel it becomes like an overload, so I just turn it off. 

G: You’re really Aquarius as fuck. What’s your favorite food?  

E: Pasta.  

G: Name three things you cannot live without.  

E: I can’t live without music, having the ability to hear, and I love seltzer water.  

G: Would you rather live a long life without ever experiencing true love or die young, but you experienced true love?  

E: Experience true love and die young.  

G: Would you rather have unlimited wealth but no personal relationships or be dirt poor but have a loving family and friends?  

E: Dirt poor is crazy… Honestly, as long as I got my cat, man, we’re good.  

G: That’s a personal relationship… Would you rather be able to see 10 years into your own future or 10 years into the future of anyone but yourself?  

E: Anyone but myself.  

G: Would you rather live in a world with no music or a world with no books?  

[long pause] 

E: Oh…ah…these are hard questions, these are not fun questions [laugh] No music… No, I mean no books, no. No books, no books, no books.  

G: Okay, coffee or tea?  

E: Tea. 

G: Winter or summer? 

E: Winter. 

G: Dogs or cats?  

E: Cats 

G: Beach or mountain.  

E: Mountain. 

G: Chocolate or vanilla?  

E: Chocolate, duh.  

G: Sweet or savory? 

E: Savory. 

G: Phone call or text message?  

E: Please call me, don’t text me.  

G: Early bird or night owl? 

E: I have been taking naps, so early. 

G: Alright, folks! And with that, we wrap up our captivating music interview with the incredibly talented alternative rapper, Etan Sutef. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Etan for sharing his artistry and insights with us. We eagerly await any future projects he has in store for us. Thank you, dear readers, for joining us on this musical journey. 

You can follow Etan Sutef on Instagram.

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