What does it take to become a legend? In Ralph Stanley's case, it's being instrumental in the development of the modern bluegrass sound. Stanley, 85, got his first banjo about 70 years ago. Attempting to learn the popular clawhammer style, he instead created his now signature "Stanley Style" instead. With his guitar-playing brother, he formed the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, offering a unique -- and soon popular -- alternative to his contemporaries, like Bill Monroe. And though Stanley still plays some of those original numbers, along with tunes from Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, he's not stuck in the past, but rather a time-traveling troubadour. Stanley was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1992, yet it wasn't until 2000 that he was "discovered" outside bluegrass circles, thanks to his work on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. His rendering of the haunting Appalachian dirge "O Death" earned him a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. At 85, at the height of his popularity, Stanley, who also regularly performs "Man of Constant Sorrow," shows no signs of updating his sound anytime soon. Give thanks for that. --Glenn BurnSilver
There's a new kind of rapper in town: compulsively stoned, inexhaustibly prolific, perpetually swagged-out. Rather than cloister themselves in VIP booths, they perfect their ground game in smaller clubs. They prefer the Internet to more traditional means of distribution. And unlike the Big Fucking Deals of three years ago (hi, Wale and B.o.B.), they choose to rap their asses off instead of nurturing delusions of wheel-reinventing grandeur.
Curren$y has a somewhat fractious place in the world of hip-hop. He lacks Yelawolf's blue-collar bona fides and he's certainly not eccentric enough to fit in the Odd Future/Lil B axis. While his cross-market appeal is limited by comparison, the MC's ear for music is far better attuned. Curren$y's albums (2010's Pilot Talk is an ideal starting point) are great comfort food, punctuating baggy prose with the molten, smoldering accents of 1970s beach rock. Like indie rock counterparts Real Estate and Ty Segall, his stuff hits hard but goes down easy.
That Curren$y has no discernible ambition other than smoking weed doesn't matter because, simply put, he sounds great. --M.T. Richards