Album Review: Koffee – Gifted

[Promised Land Recordings; 2022]

Winning your first Grammy at the age of 19 kind of sets expectations high for everything you do after. For Jamaican singer-songwriter Mikayla Simpson aka Koffee, the 2020 Best Reggae Album win for her Rapture EP was simply a jumping off point on her way to a global onslaught of positivity. She can rap, she can sing, she can play guitar, and she can win the hearts of many – including praise from Barack Obama and Harry Styles, with whom she’ll be touring later this year.

The story goes that Simpson, without realizing it, auditioned for a talent show in her high school cafeteria. This accidental start domino’d into the Major Lazer-approved smash hit “Toast” only three years later. Racking up 120+ million streams on Spotify alone is no easy feat for a newcomer, especially one with an alternative message compared to mainstream hits of a similar ilk.

It’s glaring right off the bat that Koffee isn’t the typical musician in mainstream pop. She’s fresh-faced and brings serenity to every table she sits at, a trait that she derived when she was younger singing in her church choir. Couple that with the music world’s recent rekindling of interest in reggae – that isn’t jam band related – and the story seems to have been written in the stars.

Yet, this is actually just the beginning. You’re about to hear a lot more from Koffee now that her debut album Gifted is dropping. Even though it hews more towards modern pop sounds, it will no doubt be the album to get kids to revisit the genre their parents marched for peace to, thanks in large part to Koffee’s invigorating charm and forward-thinking character.

Since debuting in 2017, Simpson’s kept her chin up and her vision clear amidst a bright spotlight and a budding fanbase. Gifted fulfills the promise of Rapture but still manages to keep Koffee’s music grounded and warm without getting too large and watered down like other prodigies.

Album opener “x10” combines early morning energy with a thankfulness to be alive that doesn’t come off preachy or goofy, but as sincere and honest. Simpson’s material avoids the usual topics in favor of the lighter notes like her mom hugging and loving her. It’s a nice change from the standard sex, violence, hatred, etc. that’s rampant these days. It’s not blissful ignorance, Koffee’s motivation for Gifted stems from her forward-thinking nature.

Song-of-the-year contender “Pull Up” is the best example of the punchy feel-good message that Koffee’s been promoting since the start. Her positivity goes a long way, and the dancehall number claps on fancy cars and accessories while still giving herself credit and heart. It’s a wonderful time with a catchy chorus that’s primed not just for dance floors but for Sunday drives too.

Reggae’s deeply linked to consciousness, and that pours out of Gifted in multitudes. The illuminating “Shine” demands self-respect for preaching peace and love in a naked and carefree way. “Feeling these bad energies don’t look good ‘pon you,” she says without sneer or disdain but empathy.

There’s youthfulness in Koffee’s music that’s not just because of her age. There’s a vibrancy that emerges around every soft edge of Gifted that can’t help but put a smile on our face. This natural joy reaches peak on “West Indies”, where Koffee finds happiness in her heritage; “If you know me, I’m having the time of my life.” This isn’t the typical, “I wanna just party” to forget; it’s finding calmness in the history which is engrained in Simpson’s personality.

Gifted doesn’t need to breakdown barriers to be successful. Simpson’s a massively hyped talent who meets that hype and transforms it into a positive, using it to fuel 10 tracks of love and prosperity. Each track finds her motivation intact, with almost no trace of despair that isn’t equally met with perseverance. While it finds the singer consistently laid back, Gifted pushes forward constantly – displaying its creator’s unique resolve.