Coppola grew up as the second-youngest of five children in Long Island, New York.[1] Coppola's lower-income family, headed by a black mother and Italian father,[2] did not fit in, and she and her family were picked on.[3][4] Her circumstances encouraged her independence and also her creativity, as her family, who received welfare,[5] had little money to pay for entertainment.[4] Her mother, a teacher, was the primary income earner, while her carpenter father was often out of work and refused to earn an income from his art.[5]

Coppola grew up surrounded by music, as her father is a jazz musician, her mother plays bass, and all of her brothers and sisters are musically inclined.[2][6] She says her first musical memory is of her father, who was her biggest musical influence, playing the song "Bessie's Blues" "on a severely out of tune piano."[7] She began playing violin at the age of six, eventually studying studio composition at the State University of New York at Purchase.[2][8] She was not happy and left after one year,[3] but during her time at Purchase, she made some demos and passed them on to her older sister Maya, who is a singer-songwriter in the music business.[8] Maya gave them to her boyfriend, music publisher Ross Elliot, who got Coppola together with producer Michael Mangini at Digable Planets.[8] While still in college, Coppola cut three demo tracks with Digable that resulted in a bidding war for the artist among other studios.[6][8] Coppola accepted a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1997.