Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

“Certain disciplines – like gratitude and positivity – I try to keep to my core. What you put in, is what you get out.”

KOFFEE had the world at her feet, with headlines, sold out shows, and Grammy awards falling into her lap. Lockdown brought much needed respite from the hype – and it turned out that returning home was just what this creative soul required.

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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Every KOFFEE does feels totally natural. Right from her first blast of viral fame the Jamaican riser has worked on instinct, trusting her gut and her natural passions to guide her. A refreshing, effervescent presence, anthems such as ‘Toast’ and the inescapable ‘Rapture’ transformed her into an international star, a female trailblazer capable of challenging far more established male peers.

When Clash meets KOFFEE in the lobby of her East London hotel, however, she’s much more measured – in fact, she borders on shy. Not a fan of the English winter – “it’s just so cold!” – KOFFEE sits sipping a peppermint tea, quietly reading a book as the hubbub of the nearby reception passes her by. Beneath the soft exterior, though, lies an artist who knows what she wants to achieve. KOFFEE has a habit of manifesting her dreams, something her aptly-titled debut album ‘Gifted’ is only going to accelerate.

It's all a long way from her humble roots in Spanish Town, growing up in a church-oriented one-parent family. They didn’t have a lot, she says, but they had enough – she was loved, and encouraged, and took a lot from the world around her. “It was very disciplined, and very simple, as well. I’m from humble beginnings. It was just myself, and my mom – a single parent house,” she says.

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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Early on in life, KOFFEE found herself drawn to two influences: her mother’s CDs – dancehall artists like U-Roy and Shaggy – and the Seventh Day Adventist church she was taken to every week without fail. “I learned a lot from church,” she says. “Like discipline. I had to go every Saturday. You’d have a long week at school, but you’d have to get up and get it done. I learned discipline, and being grateful, and actively trying to cherish being able to help other people. I learned to pay homage.”

“But I always loved music!” she exclaims. “I remember being six years old, and wanting to be a singer. I let go of that, but when I got my first guitar about the age of 12 I was head-first into reggae!” – At first, though, she had to keep her love of music to herself. Infatuated with Jamaican icons like Popcaan and Chronixx, their raunchy lyrics weren’t exactly church-friendly fare. “I couldn’t let my mom know about it!” she laughs. “When I was at school, or outside my home, I could tune in. I wanted to transition into becoming an artist, because I already knew the music I wanted to be singing.”

Yet she’s at pains to point out that KOFFEE never left the church in spirit – it’s teaching are still there, operating on a subtle but profound level in both her work and her life. “I think from the church I took a need for music to be very close to my heart,” she reflects. “I want to up-lift people.”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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It’s a mission she is performing with incredible clarity. There’s a power and poise to KOFFEE’s work, an energy and excitement that other artists simply cannot touch. Her 2019 EP ‘Rapture’ was an international breakout moment, pivoting between phenomenal word play and expert production, with KOFFEE’s effervescence at the centre. In a way, ‘Rapture’ was simply KOFFEE’s Jamaican roots blasted on to an international stage. Looking back, she reflects on her first dose of viral fame, sharing the Usain Bolt tribute ‘Legend’ on social media.

“I didn’t know it would blow up like it did,” she says, her voice still peppered in astonishment. “What he did for Jamaica, was just huge. Everyone – everyone – would gather round the TV to watch him, it was a very uniting moment.”

KOFFEE’s fame sprinted across the net as quickly as the titular athlete could break sporting records. “It happened so fast, I kind of just went with it. I knew I was doing what I loved, so despite everything happening so quickly I always felt happy.”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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Swiftly absorbed into Jamaica’s close-knit music community, KOFFEE overnight went from a teenager dreaming of fame into sitting down in the studio with some of her country’s foremost producers. “I feel like everybody showed love,” she beams. “It wasn’t hard!”

Indeed, throughout our conversation KOFFEE takes time to express her admiration for her roots. Jamaica isn’t just home, it’s also a point of inspiration; it’s an anchor in her life, but it's also the engine room furnace that keeps powering her forwards. “I was reading something the other day, that Jamaican people are talented – like, really talented – but it’s more that we like to put all our energy into whatever we do… whether that’s acting, or sport, or music. We do everything with a smile, so it’s very impactful!”

Music proved to be KOFFEE’s passport across the globe. An adept collaborator, she came close to stealing the show on J Hus’ mighty ‘Big Conspiracy’, linked with Gunna on the mighty ‘W’ and even popped up on the Harder They Fall soundtrack. A Grammy win in 2019 may have capped her rise, but it also represented his far she’d travelled – consolidation was needed, and it quickly came.

Like everyone else, KOFFEE watched the headlines in 2020 with a mixture of shock and distress. The pandemic closed off her plans, and forced this young artist to find focus once more, re-rooting herself in Jamaica. Travel was off the cards, she explains, with the island once more becoming her entire world. “I think it came in handy,” she says of the COVID enforced break. “I came into the industry straight out of school, so it was good to be able to focus on life.”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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An avid reader – when we’re introduced she’s tucking into a tome by Jamaican author Diana McAulay – KOFFEE used this expanse of spare time to finesse her art. “I like reading. I like writing poems,” she says. “I think music happened that way – I realised I could put these words I’ve been writing into a really nice place. Writing, and putting words together, creating and collaborating – those are my favourite parts of the process.”

Debut album ‘Gifted’ was recorded in studios across the globe, laid down on different continents, but there’s a common thread running through all of those sessions. “Certain disciplines – like gratitude and positivity – I try to keep to my core. What you put in, is what you get out.”

“My kind of process takes a little longer than most artists,” she reveals. “I tend to stay stuck on a line until I get it absolutely right.”

That said, for all her fastidious revisions KOFFEE moves on instinct, an artist powered by passion. She shrugs: “I think it comes naturally to me, more often than not.”

Often, a song will start a little more than chords on her ever-present acoustic guitar. Take the JAE5 produced ‘Shine’, which began in that fashion. Indeed, two key moments on her debut album were recorded live and direct on Jamaica – a pair of love songs, recorded alongside her live band. “The band has different people, who each have their own perspectives,” she says. “It felt natural for me. I wanted to give it the feeling of being by the seaside, or just being free.”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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‘Gifted’ is the sound of KOFFEE in 360, an artist expressing her pure, undiluted truth. Moving from dancehall burners to soulful reggae torch songs, it’s the work of an all-rounder, a natural talent with undaunted gifts who truly wants to stretch herself. “I wanted the album to be very rounded, and show off different aspects of my personality. The album takes you through my day – from sunrise, and waking up, through to the end of the day.”

KOFFEE is the sun burning bright in this cosmos, but ‘Gifted’ makes room for a few special guests. She’s been in the studio with Kendrick Lamar, KOFFEE confirms, and the Compton rapper appears on her debut LP. “He’s on the album, yeah,” says KOFFEE, keeping those cards close to her chest. “You might hear more from his side, too. But he’s cool. Very, very, very cool. Even from spending one night with him, you can tell he’s very honest, and very introspective in his process. He’s immensely talented.”

“When you work with your favourite artists, sometimes it doesn’t meet your expectations,” she warns. “But with Kendrick… it definitely exceeded my expectations!”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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The album itself opens with a Bob Marley sample, a sign of KOFFEE’s commitments to her roots. Describing the act as “paying homage”, she’s drawn to the reggae icon’s fearlessness, and his commitment to speaking to his mind. It’s something that runs through her DNA – KOFFEE’s powerful 2020 single ‘Pressure’ referenced the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing acclaim and controversy in equal measure.

“Reggae is mostly about social realities or injustice,” she points out. “That influence came from Protoje and Chronixx. Once I had gained my platform, I decided that I would use my voice to speak for peers who are going through the same thing. Ultimately, there are certain realities we cannot ignore in today’s society”.

As a young Black woman in an industry still largely run by a white patriarchy, KOFFEE has come up against more than her fair share of challenges. Traveling the world, she’s been able to see first-hand how engrained racism can be in Western societies, and how far we still have to travel. “I think those experiences help to put things into perspective,” she explains. “And it shows how worldwide these problems are.”

Finally released this year, KOFFEE’s debut album has been a lifetime in the making. Only just turning a tender 22, it’s easy to forget how far KOFFEE has travelled – a wise head on young shoulders, she’s innately balanced, both in our conversation and in the studio. Taking time to make each step count, she’s finally ready to share ‘Gifted’ with the world – and it’s been worth the wait. “People in Jamaica asked me if I had stopped making music!” she laughs. “But there’s been a beauty in being able to take my time. Everything is in my control, and I’m not second-guessing anything because I’ve had the space to really sit with it.”

Closing, KOFFEE mentions a scheme she and her manager set up, a tour of schools in Jamaica, including her old high school in Spanish Town. The warmth of those fans stays with her, she asserts, and they often come to mind when she’s working in the studio. However far she travels, KOFFEE points out, however many dreams she brings into fruition, she’s still a kid from Spanish Town.

“That’s super important to me,” she nods. “I remember when my family didn’t have too much… and I remember peers with even less. Getting out there, visiting people, it reminds me who I’m writing for… and who I need to inspire.”

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Ready To Take Her Throne: KOFFEE Interviewed

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'Gifted' is out now.

Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Josie Hall
Fashion: Justin Hamilton
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

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