“Me? I’m just down to earth.” 21-year-old musician Mikayla “Koffee” Simpson may be small in stature but her modesty – and height – belies huge amounts of talent. The 5’0, self-described “sing-jay-guitarist” is one of the most exciting, forward thinking, globally focused talents to emerge in recent years and has reshaped, modernised and revitalised reggae for a whole new global audience.
Born in Spanish Town, just outside of Kingston, Jamaica, Koffee was bought up alone by her hard-working mother, her father having left for New York when Koffee was an infant. “Mummy struggled so I didn’t have to,” remembers Koffee. An occasional actress who works for the Ministry of Health and who gives sex education and body positivity talks to young people, Koffee’s mum sheltered her daughter from a lot of the violence that afflicted their community. “I was aware of curfews and shootings growing up but it wasn’t necessarily a reality for me because I didn’t experience anything directly,” she says. “I would hear about gunshots over in [neighbouring] Gordon Pen, but where I live, in Eltham View, it’s a mellow vibe. It’s a pretty friendly community, we know each other for the most part and we get along well.”
Though she was able to avoid explicit scenes of bloodshed, the socio-political problems that permeate parts of Jamaica have seeped into her music, helping to make Koffee the artist she is today. “With a lot of my music, it’s about entertaining people while highlighting problems in order to try and find a solution. I genuinely want to make the world a better place.”
This positivity shines throughout Koffee’s music and manifests itself in her success. Her 2019 debut Rapture EP took the sounds of new Jamaica and presented them to the world, culminating with Koffee becoming both the first ever female and youngest ever artist to win the Best Reggae Album award at the GRAMMYs. A bona-fide breakout star, Koffee has collaborated with the likes of J Hus, Gunna, Protoje and Daniel Ceasar, stepped on stage with WizKid in front of 20,000 people at London’s legendary O2 venue, fronted global campaigns for the likes of Nike Air Jordan and Clarks and performed the title track to 2021’s acclaimed The Harder They Fall film on a stacked soundtrack that featured the likes of Jay-Z, Jadakiss, Barrington Levy, Cee Lo Green, Backroad Gee and Lauryn Hill.
In March 2022, she released her highly anticipated debut album “Gifted”. As uplifting and universal as ever, the album sees Koffee broadening her musical horizons and is a potent mix of, in her own words, “love songs, spirituality and party vibes”. Lead single “West Indies:” is a natural companion to her crossover anthem “Toast”, a track that saw the then 19-year-old burst onto the global scene. Meanwhile on the single “Pull Up”, she teams up with producer-of-the-moment JAE5 and video director KC Locke (Stormzy, Aitch, AJ Tracy, Headie One, Pa Salieu) for a track that has ignited the UK and beyond. Elsewhere we find a heady mix of reggae, afrobeats, lovers rock, Bob Marley samples and dancehall; feel good music that appeals across the generations but, with Koffee’s ultra-contemporary, youthful flair, is undeniably of the moment.
To Koffee we say congratulations on another Grammy nomination for “Best Reggae Album”, it is well deserved, because you are truly gifted.