Koffee didn’t need any coffee to help her pull off her Fall Fest performance Saturday night. Instead, the artist –– who had the flu –– leaned on and harnessed her Buffalonian fans’ positive energy.
Koffee, born Mikayla Simpson, performed at the Center for the Arts during the Student Association’s first of three Fall Fest shows, where she announced her sickness on stage.
The “singjay” grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica, where she was raised by her mom. Back then, Koffee’s focus was on school and establishing a respectable career. It wasn’t until school became infeasible that she turned to music.
Nineteen-year-old Koffee rose to fame over the last two years, after Usain Bolt reshared her song “Legend,” a tribute to the record-holding sprinter. Since then, her audience has grown on a global scale. Her song “Toast” is currently charting as No. 2 on Billboard’s Reggae Digital Song Sales and her EP, “Rapture,” is listed as No. 8 on Billboard’s Reggae Albums chart.
We sat down with Koffee after her set at Fall Fest to talk about her newfound fame, her early life and her upcoming projects.
The full interview, lightly edited for style and length, follows below.
The Spectrum: Since you began rising to fame over the last two years, you’ve been performing all over the world. What’s that like?
Koffee: It’s beautiful. I remember being familiar with New York and Miami before my music career. But I’ve been on an American tour with Daniel Caesar over the last few months. We’ve been to quite a few places; I think we’ve hit at least 18 cities so far.
TS: What’s your favorite city in the U.S. that you’ve visited so far?
K: To be honest, New York has a special place in my heart because my dad is from here, so it’s beautiful. Also, I think it has a strong Caribbean influence. I think their parents came here some years ago so they grew up with the Caribbean culture, so it feels very close to me.
TS: You told the audience at Fall Fest that you were suffering from some type of flu. What is it like to perform when you’re dealing with something like that?
K: The only difficulty is trying to bring my voice to the best point that it can be so I can perform. Because I like the sound of my tracks. I work very hard. I rehearse to sound exactly the way I sound when I produce my song, so the difficulty is there. But, to be honest, the fact that people are already familiar with some of my songs really helps me. Then the audience helps me to sing.
TS: Can you tell me a little bit about your music? “Rapture” was your debut EP. Do you think that is one of your more important works? Or is it one of your singles?
K: I think the single “Rapture” itself is really special to me. That’s why I named the EP “Rapture” –– because of the whole idea I speak about in the song. The EP represents a point in my journey where it was a massive moment for me where I just had that experience. Enough money started coming in [from] different things, like I had to change my mindset to be with the people I have in my space. And so, “Rapture” really speaks to where I was still at that point. I wanted to represent my music with that type of rapture.
TS: What messages are you trying to send through that song and through that whole EP?
K: Well, definitely if I say “Koffee come in like a rapture,” I want everybody to know that I started doing my thing and it’s making an impact because a rapture is not a simple thing. If a rapture happened, the whole world would know. I would say the whole universe would know, because it’s a big event. So, I think that’s the message that I’m trying to get across.
TS: Before your career started to take off, did you expect to become a musician?
K: I used to write songs, but I used to just want to be a writer. I was raised in a Christian home and so being an artist wasn’t necessarily my first priority at that time. At the time, I was focusing on school and studying sciences to become a pharmacist. So I was just working on that. I was trying to focus on that and then I tried to apply to continue school and I didn’t get through. That’s when I turned to music directly.
TS: Is your family proud?
K: Yes, for sure, for sure. Especially because I make positive music so I do intend to keep it that way so that my family and even younger children can be proud and can look up to my music.
TS: Is that really important to you when writing your lyrics?
K: For sure, because I’m a young person as well. I’m looked upon as a child in my family because I’m just 19 so to have the elders in my family admire what I do, and the younger children when I go to schools admire what I do, it’s the full package. I really appreciate having that.
TS: Did you like your opener Kranium?
K: Yeah, he’s a fellow Jamaican. I’ve been listening to his music ever since I was younger in high school. He’s definitely big in Jamaica as well and his audience has been spreading internationally too, so I feel very proud to be on the road alongside him tackling different audiences.
TS: Have you been working on any new music?
K: Yeah, for sure. I’m actually working on an album. My first album. [It will come out] I would say early 2020. Instead of outdoing my past work, I would hope it will add to my past work and help the musical journey. … It will definitely add to my catalogue. I will then be able to perform longer sets. Then I’ll include my older songs, plus my newer songs and incorporate them both.
TS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the UB community before we wrap this up?
K: Just thank you. It was an amazing, amazing audience.
Julian Roberts-Grmela is the assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org @GrmelaJulian
Julian Roberts-Grmela is a senior news editor for The Spectrum and an English and philosophy major. His favorite book is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and he hopes that one day his writing will be as good as hers.