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Las Vegas concerts highlight R&B’s evolution

Three acts and as many eras mined: A funk wormhole is about to open in Las Vegas.

With a trio of shows spread over four nights, R&B’s past, present and future will be on display for a sort of living, breathing CliffsNotes on the genre’s evolution over the past four decades.

Now it’s time to get down with the get-down.

From the ’80s with love of keytar

“Y’all keep this funky (expletive) going, man, ’cause at the end of the day, when we die, we all gonna stank. Funk forever.”

Thus spoke DJ Quik.

And with that, cue the kick drum, thumping like a frightened child’s heart.

Then come splashes of synth, a flatulating bass line and some get-up-on-your-feet guitar lines demanding that legs be stretched.

Like a buoy in choppy waters, your head is bobbing right about now.

The song is “Count Me Out” from Montreal electro-funk fetishists Chromeo.

The tune is written from the perspective of a man who suspects that his woman is cheating — “I thought it was me and you, not the two of us and some dude” — but while said lady may stray, we know that Chromeo’s heart remains true … to the libidinous, drum-pad-detonating R&B of the early ’80s.

To be sure, Chromeo does its own thing with the sound, referencing the past as means of moving derrieres in the present.

But for anyone who ordered cassettes of Prince’s “Purple Rain” or Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly” from Columbia House back when “Punky Brewster” was in prime time, Chromeo’s catalog will probably register as some welcome retro revisionism.

These two have been vocal advocates of revisiting that era as a means of helping it earn the critical respect they feel it was denied, with the likes of Rick James and Hall & Oates not getting the acclaim they deserved.

Chromeo has done just that over five well-received albums, the most recent being last year’s “Head Over Heels,” from which “Count Me Out” is culled.

New jack swing for the fences

The fact that fresh-faced ’80s R&B vocal group New Edition also has a song called “Count Me Out” fits this story as snuggly as a pair of the circulation-imperiling, bright red leather pants popular back in the day.

Of course, New Edition launched the careers of Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe — in addition to Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant — all of the former reuniting in supergroup RBRM, now out on the road.

How’d they get here?

After New Edition, Brown embarked on a solo career, notching the top-selling album of 1989 with his second record, “Don’t Be Cruel,” whose smash second single, “My Prerogative,” was the male corollary of Janet Jackson’s self-assertive sensation “Control.”

“Control,” Jackson’s breakout third record released in 1986, is doubly key here: That album marked the birth of new jack swing, a fusion of hip-hop toughness and R&B smoothness that registered like tectonic plates colliding, forever impacting both genres.

The snarlingly suave Brown built upon that sound on “Prerogative,” while his former/current bandmates took it further still in their next project, Bell Biv Devoe, whose quadruple-platinum 1990 debut, “Poison,” remains a high-water mark of the sound.

Recruiting members of Public Enemy’s production team, the Bomb Squad, BBV heightened and hardened new jack swing’s hip-hop edge until it swung like a prizefighter’s fist.

Their sound was still slick and modern, but also street-wise, rugged and unapologetically in your face.

With RBRM, Brown and Bell Biv Devoe revisit their respective catalogs in addition to New Edition material.

All of their songbooks were a mix of the old and the new, a common thread here.

So who’s the big-grinned face of this synthesis currently?

A new ‘King’ is crowned

Blunt in place of DeLorean, Snoop Dogg takes us back to the future.

Or 1989, to be exact.

That’s the year the reefer-enhanced rapper revisits on “Anywhere,” a cut from Anderson .Paak’s third studio album, “Ventura,” which he guests on.

“Pull up in my MC bangin’ new jack swing,” Snoop rhymes on his song-opening verse, later shouting out Warren G and Nate Dogg.

The sound in question would preface G-funk, a blend of West Coast gangsta rap and the psychedelic soul of ’70s greats Parliament Funkadelic, brought to life on Dr. Dre’s 1992 game changer, “The Chronic.”

That album launched Snoop to eventual household-name status and featured appearances by Warren G and Nate Dogg, who would become stars in their own right.

That Paak would trace this lineage in song is fitting, as he’s a descendent of both.

The 33-year-old’s repertoire is vintage-sounding and forward-looking at once — that Paak was mentored by Dr. Dre, who executive produced his two most recent albums, is no coincidence.

Equally at home collaborating with a soul great such as Smokey Robinson, R&B veterans such as Lalah Hathaway and Brandy or a who’s who of some of the best rappers in the game (J. Cole, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar), Paak is a true assimilationist skilled at not coming off like one. His catalog is as organic-sounding as it as all over the place, whether Paak is in Marvin Gaye mode on the mic, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to his bedroom, or tying his tongue into rhetorical knots with rhymes as nimble as a ballerina’s footwork.

“There’s nothing new or sharp about the cutting edge,” Paak asserts on “King James,” a horn-enhanced call to arms from his latest album, “Ventura.”

“If they build a wall, let’s jump the fence,” he continues, having already landed on the other side.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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