COVER

Koffee

Carries Jamaica’s Warmth Worldwide

By Gabby Sgherri

B

Blessings, yes I can hear you,” Koffee says as she connects to our Zoom call from Jamaica. The simple greeting, in contrast to the typical North American “hi, how are you?”, expresses Koffee’s organic desire to give thanks embedded in her code as a person and her lyrics as an artist. It’s also the start of the chorus on “Toast”, her single turned unofficial anthem of summer 2019 from her debut EP Rapture that made her omnipresent in clubs, playlists, music festivals, and headlines all over the world. Hailing from Spanish Town, Jamaica, Koffee made headlines for her Grammy win at the beginning of 2020 when Rapture took home the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. She was 19 years old at the time making her the first and youngest female artist to ever do so. She’s been racking up the accolades—or more fittingly blessingsever since, and it’s only increased her gratitude x10 making her debut studio album, Gifted, well worth the wait. 

Back to the present and one word comes to mind to describe the feeling Koffee hopes to evoke in the millions of fans listening to her debut studio album: “upliftment”. “I know we’re kind of in a difficult time,” she says referring to the ongoing COVID crisis, “I want whatever my fans consume from me to be something that can help them feel good and be in a good place.” After being released on March 25th, a quick scroll through the internet’s public town square (aka Twitter) shows that her hope is a reality with @cheyswaby tweeting “Gifted calms my nerves” and @_bgsm tweeting “Gifted is such a timely and uplifting album. It puts me in a good mood instantly.” Those are just two examples nestled among hundreds of positive tweets praising her talent.

Coming in at 10 tracks with no features, the album shows reverence for Koffee’s reggae roots “I wanted to take the sound back home, a bit more deliberately because I did a lot of experimentation in Rapture.” Equally important to note she contributed to the production of Gifted, another variable from Rapture. Naming “roots reggae” and “stripped back reggae” as sonics you’ll hear on the album, Koffee has the same undeniable ability that made “Toast” a success—to interpret the sounds of her home with a unique and youthful perspective making her music stand in a genre of its own: world reggae.

Blessings, yes I can hear you,” Koffee says as she connects to our Zoom call from Jamaica. The simple greeting, in contrast to the typical North American “hi, how are you?”, expresses Koffee’s organic desire to give thanks embedded in her code as a person and her lyrics as an artist. It’s also the start of the chorus on “Toast”, her single turned unofficial anthem of summer 2019 from her debut EP Rapture that made her omnipresent in clubs, playlists, music festivals, and headlines all over the world. Hailing from Spanish Town, Jamaica, Koffee made headlines for her Grammy win at the beginning of 2020 when Rapture took home the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. She was 19 years old at the time making her the first and youngest female artist to ever do so. She’s been racking up the accolades—or more fittingly blessingsever since, and it’s only increased her gratitude x10 making her debut studio album, Gifted, well worth the wait. 

Back to the present and one word comes to mind to describe the feeling Koffee hopes to evoke in the millions of fans listening to her debut studio album: “upliftment”. “I know we’re kind of in a difficult time,” she says referring to the ongoing COVID crisis, “I want whatever my fans consume from me to be something that can help them feel good and be in a good place.” After being released on March 25th, a quick scroll through the internet’s public town square (aka Twitter) shows that her hope is a reality with @cheyswaby tweeting “Gifted calms my nerves” and @_bgsm tweeting “Gifted is such a timely and uplifting album. It puts me in a good mood instantly.” Those are just two examples nestled among hundreds of positive tweets praising her talent.

Coming in at 10 tracks with no features, the album shows reverence for Koffee’s reggae roots “I wanted to take the sound back home, a bit more deliberately because I did a lot of experimentation in Rapture.” Equally important to note she contributed to the production of Gifted, another variable from Rapture. Naming “roots reggae” and “stripped back reggae” as sonics you’ll hear on the album, Koffee has the same undeniable ability that made “Toast” a success—to interpret the sounds of her home with a unique and youthful perspective making her music stand in a genre of its own: world reggae.

The thing I love most about Jamaica is the warmth, not the warmth in temperature although that too, but just as a people and [a] society we have a way of getting along with each other and connecting based on the environment we grew up in.”

The thing I love most about Jamaica is the warmth, not the warmth in temperature although that too, but just as a people and [a] society we have a way of getting along with each other and connecting based on the environment we grew up in.”


The genre of reggae is steeped in the country it originated and it’s always served as a musical conduit for Jamaicans to tell the world about their history, culture, and socio-economic struggles. Koffee is in many ways, enlightening people through her music while telling her own story that’s different from the other artists in the genre in which she co-exists. “The thing I love most about Jamaica is the warmth, not the warmth in temperature although that too, but just as a people and [a] society we have a way of getting along with each other and connecting based on the environment we grew up in.” Warmth can be felt in the melodies she creates to the lyrics she pens singing “Thankful fi rise today, ayy  / Life just reminded me, mmm / We’re diamonds, we shine away” on “Shine” one of the early tracks on Gifted

Koffee continues on the double entendre of warmth saying, “that’s something I want to constantly share with the world because I know Jamaica has a dark side—which I’m sure many people are aware of—but there’s also a beauty that is still to be appreciated. Whenever I travel I look forward to coming back home and I want the world to feel a bit of that even without traveling to Jamaica.” The aforementioned darkness is the gun violence and poverty that plagues her home, a truth she acknowledges in “Shine” starting off with “Sun’s out, is’a siren / gun violence tiring” but through her signature lens of gratitude offering hope by later singing “Let’s just stay alive, yeah / Youths haffi find a way, fi put the .9 away, ayy / Peace and love finally”. It’s not the first time her music has spoken on these issues but the lyrics of reality are always weaved with peaceful aspirations that paint a picture of a better future for youth. 

Beyond the lyrics, Koffee spreads warmth with philanthropy by creating her Haffi Mek It tour in 2019. She visited high schools across Jamaica, performing for students and sharing her story in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of creatives. The tour would have continued if it weren’t for the pandemic causing school closures but she confidently assures me she has plans to complete it and more taking her efforts overseas to impact other countries too. “Sharing my story and seeing their reactions and appreciation for what I was saying and my craft [along with] discovering some young musicians and asking them to come up and perform was amazing,” Koffee says on the standout memories from that first tour.

 

Shouting out my mom, showing her that appreciation and letting the world know how much she means to me is important in my writing"

The way that Koffee’s music appeals to youth extends to her elders as well, the reggae oldheads recognize the traditional elements while respecting the experimentation she does to push the sound of the genre forward. A telltale sign that an artist’s star is ascending is when the industry veterans come knocking. “Cocoa Tea is one of the first artists who reached out, listened to my music, and let me know that, in his opinion, I have something special. He kind of stood behind me and brought me onto reggae, Rebel Salute in 2017, and onto Rototom in Spain, the following year,” she recalls, referencing popular Reggae music festivals she performed at as Cocoa Tea’s guest. 

Another artist turned mentor is Protoje, his song “This Is Not a Marijuana Song” is one of the first Koffee learned how to play on the guitar, so when he reached out to collaborate the ask was a no-brainer resulting in their 2020 song “Switch It Up”. “It feels good to be recognized by Protoje because he’s one of my biggest inspirations. It’s good to receive mentorship from him and still be able to look up to him,” says Koffee reflecting on the full-circle nature of their relationship. Her up-to-date list of collaborators includes the likes of Gunna, J Hus, Chronixx, John Legend, and Daniel Caesar—all hailing from different genres; it’s a true testament to her versatility as an artist. 

“Daniel is a great mentor as well, who gives great advice,” Koffee shares at the mention of Caesar and his 2019 Case Study 01 tour which she joined as a supporting act for the North American dates. “I’ve learned the beauty of a stage performance, the potential and the pull of it because after I performed I was able to watch [Daniel’s] show from the audience. It has given [me] different ideas as to how I would like to create my show and the impact I want to make on my audience.” It wasn’t long after the tour wrapped that COVID put an end to live music, halting Koffee’s subsequent performances including her scheduled Coachella debut. Now, three years later, the festival has returned with Koffee’s name on the lineup and she’s looking forward to the milestone moment. “It feels amazing to come back around to it because the uncertainty that came with all the cancellations was definitely a bit daunting,” Koffee admits but naturally finishes her sentence on a positive note saying “we’re just coming with our best to represent Jamaica.”

 

Fast approaching is Koffee’s Gifted North American tour but no matter the many globetrotter destinations her career takes her to, all roads lead home. Much like the warmth of Jamaica, Koffee’s home means more than the geographic location, there’s one person in particular who serves as a place of comfort and refuge—her mom. You’ll hear it in the lyrics of “x10”, “Gifted”, and “Shine” amongst other songs from the new album. “[She’s] somebody I can lean on [and] who keeps me grounded. So shouting out my mom, showing her that appreciation and letting the world know how much she means to me is important in my writing,” Koffee says right after she credits her mom for being one of her biggest inspirations and mentors. 

It was Koffee’s mother after all that inadvertently kickstarted her musicality by bringing her, since she was a toddler, to church every week where she first learned to sing. To this day spirituality and music are intertwined for Koffee, intimately referencing God with the same lyrical ease that rhymes Lada (the Soviet-era Russian car popular in Jamaica) with Prada. “Some of the principles that I learned growing up in church are still able to affect me, how I express myself, and my consciousness in general. I do have a musical mind so if those two things are in your consciousness it just flows together naturally.” 

Swirling around in her consciousness alongside spirituality and music are guiding principles, an important one being “everybody is equal”. The power in those three words reminds me of the sentiment in Bob Marley’s timeless “Redemption Song”, sampled in Gifted’s opening track “x10”. Koffee elaborates, “that’s something I live by and it means a lot to me because thinking of where [I come] from to where I am now—there’s a difference in certain ways but in essence, I’m the same me. So it shows you no matter somebody’s position in life or how they appear to you, we’re still on the same level and we’re all built the same way.” The gratitude and humble wisdom that underpins her lyrics are as closely tied to her sense of self as her musicality—naturally flowing together and resulting in gifts like Gifted. Koffee imbues the sometimes harsh truths of the world with positivity that can flip even the most stubborn minds from a glass half empty to a glass half full perspective. Right on cue as we’re about to end our call, she signs off with “blessings” and heads back into the warmth of Jamaica.





Loading Posts...
X