Readers of NEST HQ are probably familiar with a term called ‘riddim.’ It’s that scratchy, hard-as-nails neo-dubstep sound that kids who wear neckbraces from the incessant head banging and pray to the gods of “siiicckkkk riddim chops” love. But that term means something entirely different in the Caribbean. Officially, ‘riddim’ is the Jamaican Patois pronunciation of the English word ‘rhythm,’ but in reggae, dancehall, calypso, soca, and reggaeton parlance it refers to the instrumental accompaniment to a song. These genres consist of the riddim plus the ‘voicing’ (vocal part) sung by the deejay (singer/vocalist). Dubstep Riddim and Jamaican Riddim share little but a homonym. Today, we dive into the latter, the culture behind it, and one incredible voice paving her own path in the culture’s rich history.
The Jamaican approach to a typical musical ‘compilation’ is called a ‘riddim.’ First an instrumental is created in the same fashion as any other type of music. Think reggae/dancehall. The riddim is then given a name (i.e. Sleng Teng Riddim, which is considered the first all digital riddim created in 1984). The name of the riddim comes either from the producer who made it or after artists have “voiced” on it and the lyrics or narrative influence the name. What sets this approach apart from most other types of music is that as many as 20+ artists will perform a separate song (or ‘chune’) on the same instrumental. Sleng Teng is among the most “versioned” (rerecorded) of Jamaican riddims, listing around 380 versions to date. When the songs are completed and released, a ‘selector’ (otherwise known as a DJ in most other cultures) will mix the songs together and go between each artists song on the riddim, typically relatively quickly, which is known as ‘juggling’ all the while ‘chatting’ on the microphone to energize the crowd. With that being said, a particular riddim could be played for several minutes depending on how much the crowd and selector are feeling the music and the selector will typically follow this up with other riddims throughout their set.
Mikayla “Koffee” Simpson is a 17-year-old deejay and singer/songwriter, known as a ‘singjay’, from Spanish Town, Jamaica. Her mission is to preserve Jamaica’s roots and culture in music and to empower the youth of her generation through her own creativity and artistry. “I want to make a better world for the generation that’s coming up,” Koffee writes, “to promote love and peace, and even though I’m young, I feel that God has blessed me with talent and wisdom to get the job done.” Her debut release, “Burning” via Upsetta Records, is a prime example of her work and her mission. “‘Burning’ is about finding and embracing the fire within yourself and using it to accomplish great things. Fire in this sense would represent talent or passion.”
The release, “Burning,” arrives as one song on Upsetta Records new Ouji Riddim (pronounced ‘O-G Riddim’). “Burning” is one amongst ten songs using the same “Ouji” instrumental. You may recognize other names on the riddim, like Busy Signal, Jah Vinci, Chuck Fenda, and Capital D. Her version croons with the talent of a force waiting to break out of the newcomer cage that most new artists find themselves in. Though she’s young, the head she rocks on her shoulders is filled with the wisdom of a seasoned artist and the voice of a generation. Her vocal talents sure match that. We had the great fortune of chatting with Koffee about “Burning,” growing up in Jamaica, and what her journey in music has been like thus far. If you’re looking for invaluable advice and insight from a soon-to-be-leading figure in the community, here’s your chance.
Give the “Burning” video a watch, the whole Ouji Riddim compilation a listen, and our interview with Koffee a read below.
Hi, Koffee! Thanks for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well usually I don’t have much to say about myself, but for starters, i’m 17 years old, I just graduated from Ardenne High School, and I have a huge passion for music.
For somebody who isn’t immersed in the reggae scene, “Riddim” might be a foreign concept. Particularly considering the fact that there’s a new sound in electronic dance music with the same name. Can you shed some light on what a real Riddim is and the history behind it?
A Riddim is simply an instrumental on which lyrics are laid in order to produce a complete song. There is usually a feeling behind a riddim or some sense of vibe to it that would assist or inspire an artiste to come up with various melodic ideas and messages for a song, so I’m thinking a REAL riddim would be one with a nice vibe and the capacity to accommodate an appropriate lyrical message.
While New York is widely believed to be the birthplace of rap and hip-hop, there is overwhelming evidence that it all started in Jamaica. What are your views on rap and hip-hop culture today?
It is often said that U-Roy, a Jamaican deejay, was the first individual to ever present to the public the idea of talking or deejay-ing on a track in order to compose a song. Without the knowledge of this history, I would believe that the entire hip-hop and/or rap culture was completely established by American natives on their own, given that Americans are managing well and even dominating this genre currently. I think that artistes on the hip-hop/rap scene are great entertainers as I am almost never bored while listening to this type of music, however, the messages behind the music could be significantly more positive and uplifting going into the future.
What is it like being a young woman in the Jamaican music community? What sort of dynamics and challenges have you found as a newcomer to the scene?
Often times, my talent and abilities are underestimated because I am a female, but this is the only challenge I have really encountered thus far. It is a bit different for females than males in the industry as it relates to creating and establishing an image but that is as far as the challenge goes so far.
I feel like a lot of people have a misconstrued view of Jamaica and what life is like in the country. Can you offer some insight on life outside of the resorts that most tourists and foreigners wouldn’t experience?
Honestly, while reading this question the only thing I could think about was the song “Ghetto Paradise” by Chronixx. There is such a great and true story behind that song and I think that answering this question without referencing this song would just be a waste of a reply. The answer to this question lies within those song lyrics.
It is my understanding that a “Selektor” is the one who actually plays the records, while a “DJ” is the person on the mic. Can you explain this and elaborate a bit more on the roles of musicians in Jamaican culture?
The term “DJ” is often used ambiguously in Jamaica as it often represents an artiste who delivers lyrics in a “chanting” or “talking” rather than a “singing” style, as well as it is used to represent disk-jockeys or “Selectors” in the dancehall. A chanting or talking DJ would be recognised as a musical or recording artiste while a Selector DJ has the role of playing the actual records.
Your song with Upsetta Records will be your debut single. Can you talk about the journey leading up to this release and what it’s been like working with the label thus far?
It has been an honestly smooth journey leading up to the release. Blessings and opportunities have been flowing from my connection with Upsetta Records, especially Dubee, ever since the first link up and I do look forward to doing more works with this label in the future.
It seems like you have a super strong team working with you. I’d love to shine some light on them.
Definitely. My team consists of all equally talented members including my mother Jo-Anne Williams, my manager Caniggia Palmer, creative director Ifidel Williams, visual consultants Celine Thompson and Annika Norris, musical brother Roel “Roe Summerz” Powell and musicians including Kenley Thomposn, Almando Douglas, Stephen “Shaq” Forbes, Dwight Rochester, Vanderleer Palmer, Shanice Drysdale, and Katryna Chaplin.
What is “Burning” about?
Burning is about finding and embracing the fire within yourself and using it to accomplish great things. Fire in this sense would represent talent or passion. It is really a motivational song aimed at encouraging individuals that it is very much possible to accomplish the best things despite the odds and conquer the world in your own right, with your own resources and the blessings that the Most High has provided for you.
What do you hope to accomplish with your music?
I hope to touch the hearts of my Jamaican family first and by extension the universe. I want to impact my environment in such a positive way that it is clearly visible in the way we operate on a daily basis and especially how we relate to each other. It is really just my dream to be the musical vessel that will make a very good and notable change in society and hopefully my music will be of such good quality that it will garner awards internationally and nice things like that but awards are secondary to me honestly. Vibes and positivity is primary to me.
Who are your favorite artists? Who (or what) inspires you?
I actually developed a fascination some time ago for Chicago rapper Indica because of his especially melodic approach to music but one of my all time favourites is reggae artiste Protoje. I used to listen to Protoje even before I began pursuing music for myself and I think that his journey itself has inspired me separately from his music as well so now he is a role model for me. Chronixx is also beyond excellent as a musician and I admire him to the max.
What are your plans for the rest of 2017 and 2018?
To continue recording music, working on my craft as a musician and to possibly release a body of work in the form of an EP or a Mixtape.
I’m a huge fan of your work. Very few songs have blown me away like “Burning.” Do you have a follow-up in the works?
I have been recording new songs, but still have not decided on which song may possibly be a follow up. For sure, I want to continue on a similar vibe to “Burning” with colourful melodies and radical lyrics.