Koffee On Positivity And Self-Education
The Jamaican artist speaks directly to the youth while repping the new Mountainside Winter Utility Collection.
Words: Deidre Dyer
In times like these, music feels more vital than ever. A simple lyric, rhythm or melody can soothe and uplift people around the world. Koffee knows this phenomenon well, as an artist who came of age in the digital music era. Three years ago, a video sharing one of her first songs, “Legend,” went viral and rapidly earned her a global fanbase.
“Legend” was Koffee’s tribute to a sports icon and her home country of Jamaica, detailing the glory of winning and making history. Her next string of singles, the expressive “Burning” and political “Raggamuffin,” primed audiences for her debut EP, Rapture. Along the way, Koffee’s lyrical prowess and inventive flow earned her the respect of Reggae peers and predecessors.
It’s no surprise that Koffee’s biggest hit, “Toast,” is a humble yet infectious ode to positivity and gratitude — qualities that have surrounded her short albeit groundbreaking career. Earlier this year, at just 19 years old, Koffee became the youngest person to win a Grammy award and the first woman to win in the Best Reggae Album category.
Awards, co-signs and chart-topping success aside, Koffee is still a young person navigating the world. Born Mikayla Simpson in Spanish Town, Jamaica, she was active in the church choir and taught herself how to play guitar at age 12. In school, her chemistry book was filled with more lyrics than notes. And though she first aspired to become a pharmacist, her music is medicinal in nature, containing a timeless sense of wisdom.
2020 was shaping up to be an incredible year for Koffee, with big tour plans and more. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a few things on hold, yet she’s still recording live performances, learning new instruments and collaborating remotely with artists and producers. “Outside of music, I just try to live my life as a 20-year-old Jamaican,” Koffee says. “I go to the beach a lot. I drive up the road. I run errands. I go to the supermarket a lot,” she adds with a laugh.
Jordan Brand is officially partnering with Koffee, first with a campaign focused on the new Jordan Mountainside Winter Utility collection and Jordan Delta. “This partnership with Jordan is a huge moment for me,” explains Koffee. “My first pair of Jordans were hand-me-downs. Looking back, it was like a sign. It all came full circle.”
Let’s start with the first song you released in 2017, “Legend.” It pays tribute to the greatness of a sports icon. What can you tell us about the process of writing that song? Looking back, how do you feel about it?
I remember having a discussion with my music teacher at the time, and he asked me, “Who is your hero?” I told him, “My mom.” He expressed to me that this athlete was his hero, and some of the points he made really resonated with me, including being a role model for the youth and remaining positive throughout his success. I remember painting the lyrics as I thought of them, strumming three chords on my guitar — just making it really jam. To this day, I’m proud of those lyrics. I sing and perform them with all my heart. I believe in showing appreciation to people, especially when they have a real influence.
Traditionally speaking, Reggae has been a male-dominated genre, one where a handful of female artists have been able to break through. Who are some of the O.G. female reggae artists that have inspired you or paved the way for your career?
I’m a huge fan of Sister Nancy. I’ve listened to her catalog, and I really like her style and her delivery. There’s also a not-so-known artist by the name of Lady P. I remember Sister Nancy brought her out on-stage one time. She didn’t get as popular as Sister Nancy, but I remember her being a vendor by my primary school. I was always having chats and conversations with her, way before I ever thought of becoming an artist. I remember her giving me insight just from regular conversations.
This year started off with your historic Grammy win in February. You were slated to appear at Coachella and go on tour this summer. Obviously, the pandemic has changed a lot of that. How have you been encouraging yourself through all of the ups and downs?
By staying active. If I’m not working, I try to find something inspirational to do. I make music, and I write in my downtime, even when I’m not in the studio. I’ve been learning how to play new instruments and also how to read and write music.
“Toast” has become a massive hit. With your music, the themes of positivity and gratitude come to mind. If you could speak directly to the youth of this generation, Jamaica and globally, what sort of advice would you offer them?
I would say that it’s good to educate yourself. It’s especially important that, as young people, we really try to learn about our history and stay in tune with what’s going on around us. It’s good to find a meditation practice or find something that you really believe in. That will help you remain positive through the rough tides of life.
How has your personal style developed over the years?
I like to be very, very comfortable. Right now, I’m wearing beach shorts and a white tee. I tend to dress a little bit more laidback. My style is influenced by Jamaica. It’s very hot here. I wear lots of colors, mesh marinas and stuff like that.
I grew up wearing a school uniform the majority of the time. I wore a tunic, a blouse, socks and shoes. I never really had the chance to get into fashion or go out much during my childhood. I’m probably a bit unruly now, because I just wear what I feel like.
How did you start getting into sneakers and Jordans, especially? What do Jordans represent to you?
I remember admiring sneakers before I started my own collection. I got exposed to them mainly through my schoolmates. The basketball players in school were always wearing Jordans. I’d see them being worn out on the streets, and they’d catch my eye. One of my first pairs of shoes were some hand-me-down Jordans.
Based on the focus of this campaign, what do you like about the new Jordan Mountainside Winter Utility Collection and Jordan Delta?
I really like the color schemes. The clothing is super dope. When you wear it all together, it just makes you look super futuristic and fresh. I wore the new Jordan Delta for a full day recently, and it was so comfortable. My feet are small, and they fit me perfectly.
What can you share about your forthcoming album? Just thinking about this year, there have been so many more conversations around social justice. Has any of that changed the vibe of the songs you’re recording or thinking of for the album?
I think it’s a pretty well-rounded album. It has quite a few vibes, but it still brings you on a full-circle journey. I can tell you that it’s very positive and will be very fun to listen to. It touches quite a few different topics, zones and vibes, while still being all in sync.
Has your musical process changed at all since the beginning? What is it like these days?
Well, my creative process is just me vibing to music and getting out whatever is on my mind. I’ve been able to do that in different ways. These days, it’s less about physically meeting with producers and engineers to get it done; we do more digitally. We get recordings from overseas, and then we send something back vocally and just get it done.
What does it mean for you to be joining the Jordan Brand family at this point in your career?
First of all, I’m very, very honored. I’m excited, and I’m happy about the message that Jordan is pushing in this campaign. It’s about positivity among the youth. I’ve been pushing for this myself. Now is the time for that, really.
The Jordan Mountainside Winter Utility Collection and Jordan Delta are now available on Jordan.com and at select retailers.