Koffee Gifted Columbia
At just 19, reggae star Koffee (Mikayla Simpson to her friends and family) cemented her brisk rise to fame with a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, becoming both the youngest person and first-ever woman to win the accolade. With only the critically-acclaimed 2019 EP, Rapture, to her name, no one was more surprised than the Jamaican artist herself, as she admitted to the Evening Standard: “I didn’t know the world would show me so much love so quickly.”
Koffee’s hotly anticipated debut album Gifted is almost guaranteed to see her profile level-up even further, but it shuns any obvious routes to megastardom. Where Rapture was, well, a rapturous introduction to a new Caribbean star, Gifted takes things back to basics.
To start, Gifted has zero features. In a cultural climate in which features are a hot commodity – especially when you consider how they can make or break an emerging star’s career – this feels intentional on Koffee’s part. Sure, she’s already worked with big names like Protoje, John Legend and Cruel Santino, as well as making fans of Afrobeats sensations Burna Boy and Davido, but there’s something resolute about the choice to go it alone here.
The broader picture that emerges from Gifted – a self-assured title if ever there was one – is of a confident young artist entering her next phase. Opening track X10 samples Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Redemption Song, setting the tone for an album that not only returns to her roots, but pays homage to the legends that laid the path before her. Having produced much of the album herself – often crafting tracks in dimly-lit hotel rooms while on tour – it’s a direct, sincere quality that really comes across. Carried by an effortless guitar line and a bouncy trap beat, Shine evokes the simple joy its name conveys. The title track follows this carefree energy, the singer’s lilting melodies gliding atop buoyant percussion and fingerpicking. But it’s on album centrepiece Lonely that Koffee begins to dig deep. Over a deep bassline and flashes of piano, the artist croons, “I know it’s hard to trust sometimes/ But it’s harder to be lonely.” It’s a salient moment of introspection that speaks to Koffee’s meteoric rise – sometimes it’s lonely up top.
While the messaging, and indeed the slower pace, of Gifted diverges from the politically-charged Rapture, acclaimed producers such as JAE5 and Frank Dukes, as well as Jamaican luminary iotosh, lend their chops to yield energetic, dancefloor-focused anthems like Pull Up and West Indies. The now-22-year-old singer describes the latter as “[coming] from the heart of the Caribbean. It speaks to the beauty and creativity that flows through its veins and that escapes into the rest of the world.”
Gifted is a celebration. It is also, in a smaller way, a portrait of an artist in motion. She’s come a long way from the 17-year-old who uploaded a tribute song on YouTube to Olympic medallist and fellow Jamaican Usain Bolt, prompting a co-sign that would herald the start of her career. But Gifted feels more like a reset than a culmination – a personal exploration into the music that has shaped her. And this is no bad thing. There’s something very special about witnessing someone who so clearly understands herself, her influences and, above all, the legacy she sees herself a part of.