As singer-rapper-producer Kofi sees it, every opportunity in his life has been a stepping stone on his inevitable trajectory to a professional music career. He started producing as a teenager, when other students at his Scarborough high school wanted to be rappers. He was already a classically trained pianist (who also plays djembe, trombone, guitar, and a little bass) and was a self-described “music nerd,” who understands music in an artistic but also analytical way. He set up a little basement studio and went to work, writing countless songs every night.
Now, the 22-year-old has racked up a substantial following, releasing his own music under his own imprint Jvngle Music Group and attracting the attention of Drake and OVO via his "Do Not Disturb" freestyle. He's set to release his debut EP, Story of My Life, with Red Bull Records in August.
His sound is a mix of all the cultural influences he absorbed growing up in Scarborough and his parents’ eclectic tastes. “It's still not really clear if I want to do hip-hop or R&B or dancehall but the environment that I was in at the time when I started making music, it was all just rap. Being from where I’m from, I was always working with hip-hop artists. It’s not just the music genre, like the lifestyle is hip-hop.”
His latest single off the record, “Babygirl,” premiering today on Complex, is a quintessential summer jam, a song about lamenting over a first love set over a mellowed-out dancehall beat with afro-inflected drums. Hit play and it will whisk you away to a beachside sunset with a drink in hand.
His lilting voice bops over the track as he reminisces about a love lost but not forgotten. “It’s like when you have a real tight emotional bond with somebody and then you break up. It is what it is, but at the end of the day, you still know that you have that emotional bond with them. It can really be summed up with the one bar: ‘You could be his but you're still mine.’”
He considers it one of his best-written releases to date, which is telling since he has enough songs in his iCloud vault to fill two albums.
When he’s not working on music he goes by Daenan Gyimah, a star volleyball player for the UCLA Bruins. His volleyball scholarship got him to Los Angeles and being surrounded by the music scene there has been incredibly motivating for him. “I've made so many connections in L.A., even just playing volleyball; it's like a platform for me. I went to UCLA with 4000 Instagram followers—in less than four years I have 45,000. That alone has helped my music career.”
He gets a sense of familiarity when running into people from Toronto, like rapper Preme out in L.A. There’s an “unspoken bond” between them and it provides a bit of ease when trying to navigate things so far from home.
Home is always on his mind and he just wants to see the youth from his part of Scarborough—locals call it "Paradise"—win. When he started Jvngle Music four years ago he wanted to build something to spotlight all the natural talent that he was seeing every day. “I've noticed there are just so many talented kids, like my friends’ little brothers that are a couple years younger than me. And I just wanted to create a platform so we can help them out if they really want to pursue music and they're serious. It’s my way of hopefully, in the future, giving back to the community.”