Speaking with Complex UK on tour in NYC, experiencing bitter minus temperatures coupled with snow, Jamaican native Koffee is riding an international wave of success with her music right now. Always smiling and calm, Koffee is the 18-year-old, patois-singing reggae musician that everyone is (rightfully) obsessed by. Chosen to support childhood hero and fellow Jamaican reggae star Protoje on his recent UK tour, as well as being championed by the likes of Chronixx, Koffee is now signed to Columbia and on her way to the top.
Mikayla Simpson, as she was born, has an infectiously positive outlook on life and has flourished in the face of struggle and violence. Simpson—raised solely by her mother—learned the importance of honesty, respect and responsibility from the start; integrity and morality lie at the centre of her lyrics. Dedicated to keeping Jamaica's creative fire burning, Koffee's love of her country is a huge part of who she is; committed to always writing in patois, her vision for the music goes further than her own success and she is dedicated to the progression of reggae on a wider scale.
Releasing her brand new single "Throne", with Major Lazer's very own Walshy Fire on production, Koffee's compelling message of hope and humility clearly grows stronger with each single she releases (her previous single, "Toast", stands at nearly 14 million YouTube views). An exquisite voice with a strong mission statement, the influence of this unique and prolific act is so affirming and refreshing that we had to get to know her more.
How do you like London? I hear you visited recently.
I have actually been a couple of times! Out of everywhere that I've visited in the world, the UK is definitely my favourite place. I identify strongly with the people in London—people who love music—and the live music scene is so lively and prominent. It's euphoric. I like the grime scene a lot, too. I've heard a few names I like, including Ghetts and Giggs, and I'd like to collaborate with a few UK artists in the future.
Jamaica feels so rooted to your identity. When you’re out touring, separated from your normal, day-to-day environment, do you find yourself writing differently?
Most definitely! For example, when I'm in the UK, I'm inspired in new ways which adds to the feeling of just loving being there. I write lyrics that are true to me and my environment, at that moment. The energy comes from me and I just try to put out the most natural vibe and work with what feels right. God gave me a talent, so it comes very natural to me.
Are you keen to explore contrasting sounds to your aesthetic, or are you conscious of keeping the Jamaican feel a constant?
I would love to just keep on representing for Jamaica. What is central to that is my delivery of lyrics, that I keep writing in patois, but I want to explore my sound. I'm a new artist and I only have a few songs out there, so there is definitely still some exploring to be done.
What elements of your character does your sound represent?
My aura, my demeanour, my vibe! The support and recognition for my music I have been getting is so encouraging; I try to not be intimidated by success. I need to keep accomplishing greater things in order to keep the people tuning in and the work progressing. My music is generally geared towards positive messages and vibes; basically, the content is female empowerment, embracing culture and young people. As an artist, I recognise how powerful and influential music can be, so I think to put positivity out there is important and that is me trying to make a difference. Speaking on those issues not only provides something to vibe with but also something that will ultimately fuel a good cause. I want my music to speak to everyone because I know how influential music can be.
I JUST TRY TO KEEP MY HEAD CLEAR, THINK ABOUT JAMAICA AND KEEP THE FIRE BURNING.
Having met and worked with your heroes, Protoje and Chronixx, how do you feel these experiences impacted your approach to songwriting?
Protoje and Chronixx are my inspirations—meeting Chronixx was definitely an inspirational moment. The energy was very strong and his talent is tangible; you can feel it in the air. I used to listen to both of them when I just started writing. Even to this day, I still feel deeply affected by early experiences of their sound. I am very appreciative and grateful to them for the music they have made.
What and when was your first experience of seeing people really enjoying your music?
Probably when Toddla T brought me on stage in 2018. That allowed me to see people really react to my songs and for me to have a real moment defining my presence on the stage. That was an eye-opening moment for me.
When did you first recognise your talent for music?
I was raised by a Christian mother. We went to church and, being in church, you're expected to be in the choir so it all just happened naturally. But I actually started making music in the 9th grade; I began writing lyrics and tuned into music in a more focused way—especially dancehall and reggae, the roots of Jamaica. It was at that stage I started to embrace music; maybe not necessarily as a career, but as something that I really had fun doing and something that I enjoyed having in my life. Then everything fell into place.
Do you play any instruments?
Yes, I play the guitar. I taught myself, along with the help of some YouTube videos here and there [laughs].
Are you more of a sensitive or resilient person?
I'm generally more resilient.
Do you find the competition between female reggae artists friendly?
Generally, it's a friendly genre. The way I see it is, it's not always the most important thing to be the best, it's better to just be a part of a movement. Reggae is all one music, one country. We are all representing the same thing so when people come forward and put out music, it's not just about hype—we need to be sure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute. We're all helping the music move forward as a whole, as a genre.
How do you stay focused on that when other aspects of fame and success can sometimes dilute the authenticity and message of the music?
I try to remain grounded in my foundations, the way my mummy raised me. I remember the advice that she gave to me... I just try to keep my head clear, think about Jamaica and keep the fire burning. Everyone has the capacity to be positive or negative, and it's what you choose in the end that will ultimately differentiate who you are. I would like to think of myself as positive as much as possible, and I channel that into my music by saying things that are truthful to me.
What are you mum's core values, and is she critical of the music?
She will tell me when something needs to be changed or when something sounds awkward [laughs]. But her core values: honesty is definitely one, hard work, practice... There's a long list of values I do my best to live by daily.
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