Two years ago, a 17-year-old Jamaican musician named Mikayla Simpson, aka KOFFEE, uploaded a video online of herself strumming an acoustic guitar and singing her song Legend, which was written as a tribute to track and field superstar Usain Bolt.
Yuh nuh need no medal with a heart of gold, yuh stay humble inna yuh glory,if the times get slower and yuh start get old, mi still remember yuh story.
Bolt saw and reposted the video and it soon went viral. Since recording that first video she has become one of Jamaica’s most exiting new musicians. COCOA TEA introduced her at Rebel Salute to a massive audience. She has since performed alongside contemporary icons such as CHRONIXX and PROTOJE. Before releasing her Rapture EP, she said:
Being a young artist, you know that you’re not the first and there are a lot of people who have been there before you to basically look up to—people who have been setting examples forever. They’re the foundation for the music that you are here experiencing and listening to now, [so] to know that you can … reach out to them and have them give you advice and just guide you along your journey, it’s a very comforting feeling.
Koffee taught herself to play guitar at age 12 and began listening to modern reggae soon after. At 14, she made her first attempts at writing.
I was listening to Protoje and Chronixx and dem flows and lyrics were very fascinating, and I was like, you know, feel like mi wan try this a little. And I just started playing around with lyrics, writing a few lines and trying to rhyme some words and getting bigger and bigger each time—so bigger words, more syllables, or longer rhyme schemes.
During her final year at Ardenne High School in Kingston, Koffee auditioned for a talent show orchestrated by her music teacher in front of crowd of an estimated 1,000 people.
It was a huge moment for me. And it basically gave me my first confidence in being able to perform and deliver music live.
The Bolt tribute gave an onslaught of attention, including representatives of the Jamaica-based label Upsetta Records, who asked Koffee to make a cut of the Ouji Riddim. Her version became the 2017 hit Burning.
On her current EP Rapture, she shows off her versatility, slipping between rapid-fire ragga grit and conscious reggae styles. On Raggamuffin, the EP’s final track, Koffee makes the case for both her own and her genre’s longevity:
Raggamuffin reggae beat yeh
Dancehall pan di street yeh
Caan stall nor defeat
2030, we still a dweet.
Raggamuffin is a reclaimed word that British colonizers used to designate black islanders. It’s that same irreverent ingenuity that makes Koffee’s music so exciting.