FRONTPAGE is Highsnobiety’s weekly online cover story exploring the people, moments, and ideas shaping culture today. For the latest edition of our series, Koffee, fresh off a historic Grammy win, indicates what we can expect from her hugely-anticipated debut album.
Koffee is the first to tell you that her blessings are abundant. “Blessings all pon mi life,” she sings on her breakthrough single “Toast,” the buoyant dancehall earworm that has willed even greater blessings into existence for the young Jamaican singer/songwriter since its initial release in 2018 and reiteration on her debut EP Rapture, released last year. Although she doesn’t need anyone else to spell them out for her (and anyway, “We nuh rise and boast,” as the song says), some of those blessings have recently included: her first Grammy nomination and win (she became the youngest person and first ever woman to win Best Reggae Album), a successful first tour of North America supporting Daniel Caesar, performances lined up at Coachella this spring and with Harry Styles in the fall, impeccably stylish collaborations with the likes of Gunna and J Hus, a cosign from Rihanna, and, before the year is up, she’ll be dropping her debut album.
In an airy Los Angeles apartment with customarily bountiful plants and natural light, Koffee and I sit at a dining room table and discuss some of the ways life has changed for her over the past year. A wide, braces-tinged smile warms and brightens her face like one of the sunbeams saturating the room. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot busier than I used to be!” she says with pride. “I think I’ve fallen even more in love with music now.” It’s the Thursday before the 62nd Grammys, where Rapture will go on to a historic win for the 19-year old.
The next milestone on Koffee’s calendar is coming up in April, when she will play Coachella for the first time — the biggest solo performance of her career so far. Although nerves would be more than justified, she only expresses eagerness. “[I’m] excited. We’re really, really preparing. We’re going in,” she says. “This is why I do my music: so I can be recognized, and get to places like this, so I’m really happy.”
Koffee has a soft disposition, but she’s not shy. She emanates the ease of a veteran artist (as opposed to what you might expect from someone who began making music just a few years ago while still in high school) as well as the youthful vibrancy of a teenager whose appetite and energy are destined to attract excitement. If Koffee has fears or doubts, they are not apparent. But above all, she is incredibly humble; the composed demeanor of a woman with a real faith in who she is and who she will be.
Born Mikayla Simpson, Koffee grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica, raised as an only child by an encouraging — albeit protective — mother. “I was somewhat of a sheltered child,” Koffee says. “[My mother] always tried to take care of me and make sure I was at home in the house, not getting in trouble.” They were active in the church, which is where Simpson’s relationship with music began. “Ever since I opened my eyes, I’ve always been going to church every week,” she tells me. “I learned music there. I fell in love with music there.”
“Ever since I opened my eyes, I’ve always been going to church every week. I learned music there. I fell in love with music there.”
Once she began attending high school in Kingston, city life broadened her creative horizons. “I started listening to reggae music while in high school, writing my lyrics, playing my guitar,” she says. Kingston’s music scene allowed her to connect with other artists and gain access to studios for the first time. “The whole Kingston scene added to my perspective of reggae music and helped me to be the artist I am today.” Koffee accredits her musicianship to a combination of influences from both Spanish Town and Kingston: “Half small town, half city.”
At the end of summer 2017, Koffee shared an original tribute song she penned for Usain Bolt titled “Legend,” a sweet acoustic recording that succinctly shows Koffee’s budding strength as a songwriter in just two minutes. The song nabbed the attention of Bolt himself — Koffee was ultimately invited to perform it at Bolt’s statue unveiling ceremony at Kingston’s National Stadium — and since then, one thing has swiftly led to another. Producers immediately emerged looking to collaborate, which gave way to Koffee’s debut single “Burning” just weeks later. She followed it up with “Raggamuffin,” “Toast,” and, ultimately, the full five-song Rapture EP, which garnered such fans as Barack Obama, Jordan Peele, and Lil Uzi Vert, among others.
The fluidity with which each milestone has led to the next tells Koffee what she needs to know. “When I realized that it [has been] non-stop, I realized that this must be for me,” she says. “No breaks. It just keeps going and growing. So therefore this must be my journey, my purpose.” That deference to natural momentum is validated by the strength of each offering; every song improves upon the range of the last one. She imagines sticky melodies and invigorating flows, raps with as much agility as any MC on the Billboard Hot 100, and her lyrics show the acuity of a writer in touch with her voice
Koffee’s path is materializing quickly, but with precision. Rather than fall prey to the industry’s fickle machinations that enthrone stars as quickly as they forget them, her aspirations are in service of sustainability. Koffee appears to instinctively understand the value of staying grounded and building a sturdy foundation. She’s not in any rush.
“It just keeps going and growing. So therefore this must be my journey, my purpose.”
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