KOFFEE’S REGGAE REVIVAL
The rising Jamaican artist combines classic and new sounds on a great album
Koffee has only had about a dozen of her songs widely available to stream until now, but the 22-year-old Jamaican artist is already proving she can reinvigorate reggae and dancehall for a pop audience. Her joyous 2018 smash “Toast” earned her spots on two of Barack Obama’s coveted playlists, and in 2019 she became the first woman to win the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. Along the way, she’s collaborated with rapper Gunna and John Legend, and this year she’ll open the Latin American leg of Harry Styles’ world tour. Now, she’s delivering on the promise of “Toast” with Gifted, her excellent debut full-length.
On Gifted, Koffee combines traditional reggae with
modern flourishes and hip-hop sensibilities, reminding us that rap’s roots are richly intertwined with Jamaican music. While a song like “Lonely” could make the purest purist smile, “Defend” breaks out dusty boom-bap production, and “Shine” sets sunny guitars over tittering hi-hats and strong 808s. The album’s musical backdrops range from breezy to absorbing, but it’s Koffee’s performances that are consistently bewitching. She skips between honeyed, heartfelt trills and mind-bogglingly meticulous flows, intricate and acrobatic. Even on the gentle “Lonely,” Koffee can’t help but break into dexterous bars about her vision, style, and inspirations for a fiery denouement.
“Lonely” is one of a handful of tracks here that could be classified as a love song, something that, so far, has mostly been absent from her catalog. Koffee usually puts pen to paper to empower and give thanks, but the girl proves herself to be a compelling romantic, too. When she coaxes and compliments her “darling” (her pet name of choice; she doesn’t employ any gendered pronouns) on “Lonely,” her game is so sweet and soft it almost feels platonic: “I hope your day’s fine — we should spend the day now.” She’s bolder on the standout “Run Away,” where her flashy flexes amount to pleas for affection: “I just wanna love somebody,” she admits.
More than anything, though, Gifted is a portrait of a brilliant young artist keenly aware of the miracles that lift her up: a loving mother, a benevolent maker, a tight community, and an impeccable sense of rhythm and rhyme. “Pull Up,” a winning meetup with the producer and Afroswing maven JAE5, is one of the album’s liveliest celebrations of life and love, elevated by a swirling sax line that winds around Koffee’s jubilant closing hook.
You can picture her bright, braced smile when she coos about the simple pleasure of being outside on album opener “x10,” and again on “West Indies,” when she reminds her managers that even if she’s a prodigy, she also wants to party like any other kid. Even when Koffee engages with hardship in her hometown — she name-checks crime, inflation, and police brutality — she does so with brevity and optimism. Koffee is not blind to misfortune. She’s looking up in spite of it.