Since releasing her hit single "Toast" in 2018, Koffee has quickly ascended the ranks of contemporary reggae. The following year, her debut EP Rapture rose to number one on Billboard's Reggae Albums chart, and in 2020, it earned her a Grammy for "Best Reggae Album," making her the first woman to win in the category, and, at just 19 years old, the youngest.
With a subsequent debut LP, Gifted, released in March of 2022, Koffee cemented her status as one of reggae's most sought-after artists. For its third-annual celebration, the Afro-Carib Festival has tapped her as this year's headliner at the Miramar Regional Amphitheater on Saturday, February 25, when she'll top a diverse lineup boasting Haitian singer J. Perry, reggaeton and rap artist Jacob Forever, Nigerian artist Tekno, and Miami rapper Yung Wylin'.
Miramar City Commissioner Alexandra P. Davis, founder and host of the Afro-Carib Fest, says that for Black History Month, she wanted to spotlight and unify the diverse culture in Miramar in a positive setting, and Koffee's music "has lyrics everyone can relate to."
"Her being a Grammy Award-winning artist and Grammy-nominated this year says something about her reach and her positive message to the world," Davis adds. "The type of vibe I'm bringing is that message in the music."
Walk into any dancehall or Afrobeat party in Miami, and you'll most likely hear DJs transitioning between nostalgic and new dancehall with the familiar buoyant riddim of "Toast," produced by Miami-based producers Izybeats and Major Lazor's Walshy Fire. The lyrics — "Blessings all pon mi life and/ Me thank God for di journey, di earnings a jus fi di plus" — immediately coalescie the energy of the crowd, beckoning everyone to sing along, temporarily forgetting life's perils while raising a cup to the things worth smiling about. Those emblematic moments magnify the infectious vibe that transcends age, gender, and race. Koffee represents the foundation and future of reggae.
"I think that music influences people's state of mind," the artist tells New Times over the phone. "I feel like I've been influenced by music before, like Bob Marley's words."
She hones the unapologetic fervor of Bob Marley when she uses her music to speak against gun violence in Jamaica on tracks like "Throne." Yet she entrances listeners when she trades politics for parties on the Afrobeat-tinged single "Pull Up" from her debut album, Gifted.
"Even in his passing, Bob [Marley] is someone who I really rely on," Koffee reflects. "I see how much his message was needed in the world — and even today, it's needed, and there's a place for it, so he's a good yardstick for me to use. I try to think, How can I influence people in a better way?"
Hailing from Spanish Town, a city located just west of Kingston in St. Catherine Parish, Koffee (born Mikayla Victoria Simpson) developed an affinity for music at an early age. Raised by a devout mother, she first fell in love with melodies and instruments in church.
"The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is very musical. We don't use a lot of percussion in church, so we focus more on melodies like the keyboard and guitar," she explains.
As she got older, Koffee started listening to more genres and gravitated toward melodic rappers like Gunna (who she would later team up with on her 2022 single "W"). Outside of Bob Marley, she also became a fan of reggae artist Protoje, whom she still cites as a primary influence. While attending Adrenne High School in Kingston, she continued to study music and practiced performing live at her school's talent show.
Her big break came in 2017 after she uploaded to Instagram a video of her playing the guitar and singing "Legend," a track dedicated to Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt. The song went viral after the Olympian sprinter reposted it to his account. That same year she released her debut single, "Burning," and signed to Columbia Records.
Following Rapture's release, Koffee teamed up with film and music visionaries on projects that most artists wait years to get invited to. "Toast" was featured on the soundtrack for Jordan Peele's thriller Us, which helped drive its popularity in the States, and in 2021 she collaborated with Jay-Z to record the title track for the Netflix movie The Harder They Fall.
Last year she embodied the full scope of her talent on Gifted, which earned her another Grammy nomination for "Best Reggae Album." The project weaves reggae, Afrobeat, classic lovers' rock, and dancehall like a neat, intricate braid, demonstrating her versatility.
"While I was creating this album, I was able to work with a live band to create songs like 'Run Away' and 'Lonely,'" she says. "That was something I always looked forward to doing, which is taking the music back a little bit to the first days when I used to make music."
Recently, she teamed with Jessie Reyez and Sam Smith on the pop-dancehall single "Gimme" from Smith's latest album, Gloria. In the video, Koffee fits comfortably in the nightclub setting, dancing alongside Reyez and Smith and gleaming confidently.
"It was really fun collaborating with them," she says, her voice lighting up. "They have great energy, and being on set for the music video was fun," she adds, right before lamenting how cold it was the night they shot in New York City two months ago.
Only 22 and possessing a résumé replete with accolades, Koffee's still at the beginning of her career. She represents a new generation of dancehall and reggae artists defined by their own terms. She's open to experimenting with her sound because she's "not keen on keeping with just one thing." With no release date set for her next album, she says fans can expect new music from her sometime this year.
While she continues to emanate her energy into the world, she gleans her positive outlook from those who have been there since before the fame. No matter the global stages onto which her next hit song sweeps her, she'll always know where to plant her feet and stay grounded in the places and people that mean the most to her.
"I stay close to my family and my day ones who remind me of where I'm coming from and what initially inspired me," she says. "It's important to stay grounded, but not rooted in a way that you don't grow but that you know you have roots."
As she continues to brew her legacy in reggae, Koffee's worldwide impact on music is as potent as her name suggests.
Afro-Carib Festival. With Koffee, J. Perry, Jacob Forever, and others. 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at Miramar Regional Park Amphitheater, 16801 Miramar Pkwy., Miramar; afrocaribfestmiramar.com. Tickets start at $15 to $125 via ticketmaster.com.