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Kool John’s ‘Up All Night 3’ Is as Cool as Ever

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a young Black man in a black and pink shirt and a black ballcap and glasses with a goatee stands in front of a wall with street art
Kool John, a representative of Richmond and the HBK Gang, has released his ninth album. (Courtesy of Kool John)

In an era of constant rebrands, consistency can be refreshing. It’s particularly admirable when an artist who has spent their career carving out a distinct regional sound continues to deliver what fans want without feeling the need to switch it up for a new demographic.

One such Bay Area loyalist is Kool John, the Heartbreak Gang rap crew ambassador and self-proclaimed “OG in the game” with “gray hairs, mayne,” who has once again dished out his style of Northern California slaps for local ears.

The rapper’s latest effort, Up All Night 3, is proof of his 10-toes-down approach to “mainey nights” music.  As the title suggests, it’s an after-hours soundtrack for neon-pooled outings. With album cover art that pays tribute to strip club addictions, it also conjures notions of Too $hort’s former label, Up All Nite, which spotlighted artists such as East Palo Alto’s Dem Hoodstarz and Berkeley’s The Pack for their house party exploits. Kool John is a continuation of that energy.

A “real Richmond” representative, Kool John stays true to his compass, never veering off course from the post-Hyphy, Hennessy-drenched flows he’s been delivering since his 2013 debut, Peace, Love, Shmoplife. Now nine albums deep, he’s capping off his Up All Night “trilogy” — which he kicked off in 2017 — with his smiley-face-with-sunglasses motif. Do not press play on this Kool John album expecting to be profoundly mindblown by poetic lyricism or insightful commentary; instead, embrace the wave of restrained coolness, sexual boasting and money-filled conquests typical of an HBK Gang offering.

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The veteran spitter provides a tracklist filled with Shmophouse bops. The album’s standouts include the opening tracks “Intervention” and “No Announcements” — zappy, bass-heavy blappers that establish the tone of what’s to follow. At its best, this record is a nostalgic romanticization of Richmond’s rap glory, with mentions of the industrial port city’s legacy of producing successful acts like Erk the Jerk (now known as Kevin Allen) and LoveRance. Production from Iamsu!, along with features from longtime collaborators Skipper, Show Banga and St Spitta, and newcomer Dolla$ Up Nero, round out the consistently upbeat project.

The 26-minute listen is reminiscent of a drive down Macdonald Avenue — with enough shoutouts, toasts and celebrations to last all night.

‘Up All Night 3’ is streaming on all platforms as of March 31.

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