At 19 years old, Koffee is changing the reggae game

Last Sunday in Los Angeles, the 19-year-old Jamaican musician Koffee was called to the Grammy stage. She approached the podium in a Thom Browne three-piece suit and flashed the crowd the smile of someone who just made music history. As she accepted her award for Best Reggae Album, both her silver braces and golden Gramophone shimmered in the spotlight. She is the first female artist to win the category, and its youngest victor to date. After thanking her accomplished contenders (including Julian Marley), she said: “This one is for all of us. This one is for reggae. This one is for Jamaica.”

Just 3 years ago, Koffee was Mikayla Simpson of Spanish Town, Jamaica: a high school student who dreamt of becoming a pharmacist. Raised by a single mother, Koffee had a quiet and sheltered upbringing. “It’s so strange. I used to walk by the same people every day and literally nobody knew me,” she tells me, speaking on the phone a few days after her win and a few hours before a trip to the orthodontist to get her braces tightened. Now, as one of the most potent cultural exports from Jamaica in recent decades, her presence on the island rarely goes unnoticed. “I’ve been handling what’s been thrown at me fairly well, I’d say. A lot of things are new to me, but I’m slowly but surely grasping my new life as an artist.”

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