1. Nas, “Life is Good”: “I am a graphic classic song composer,” Nas raps on the intro to his latest album. You may disagree, but Nas is the best rapper alive, and with “Life is Good,” he's got the year's top album, regardless of genre.
2. Of Monsters and Men, “My Head Is an Animal”: The Icelandic fivesome have melodies that are eerie, jamming, groovy and epic.
3. Elle Varner, “Perfectly Imperfect”: Her raspy and powerful voice easily gives Elle Varner R&B's best offering of 2012.
4. Lianne La Havas, “Is Your Love Big Enough?”: Lianne La Havas' honesty pierces on the tracks on her debut album, and it makes the collection of songs heavy and beautiful.
5. Frank Ocean, “channel ORANGE”: Frank is fresh. Enough said.
6. Miguel, “Kaleidoscope Dream”: It's a bit shocking — though more exciting — to see the Grammys acknowledge Miguel's multi-talents with five nominations.
7. Emeli Sande, “Our Version of Events”: The debut album from this Scottish import commands your attention, thanks to Emeli Sande's strong pipes jelled with R&B and pop sounds.
8. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid m.A.A.d city”: The major label debut from Dr. Dre's protege is dope for its clever rhymes and soulful skits.
9. Mumford & Sons, “Babel”: Mumford & Sons continue to hark on love and life on “Babel,” and it sounds masterful with its rock harmonies that are both rugged and calming.
10. Shiny Toy Guns, “III”: The year's best dance and electronic-based album isn't on Top 40 radio. Shiny Toy Guns returned in 2012 with a third album and its lead singer, Carah Faye. The foursome sounds better than ever.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody's picks:
1. Emeli Sande, “Our Version of Events”: Sande's forceful, soulful voice is enough of a lure, but coupled with the most poetic, beautiful lyrics and melodies of the year, Sande's debut album was a brilliant work.
2. Taylor Swift, “Red”: Jake Gyllenhaal is most likely the reason for Swift's ire in songs like the wickedly vengeful “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” as well as heartbreaking songs like “I Almost Do” or “All Too Well.”
3. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”: Ocean's grand statement about his sexuality seemed to overshadow the reason why he was one of music's most important figures — his talent.
4. Esperanza Spalding, “Radio Music Society”: The 2011 Best New Artist winner delivered her most accessible album to date, melding her jazz roots with R&B for an enchanting album.
5. Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls”: Brittany Howard's vocals slay on every track.
6. Various Artists, “The Hunger Games Soundtrack: Songs from District 12 and Beyond”: This collection of songs made for the blockbuster film captured the bleakness of the novel better than the movie.
7. Killer Mike, “R.A.P. Music”: Killer Mike has been under the radar in the rap world for years — and it's too bad this great didn't elevate his profile in the mainstream.
8. Elle Varner, “Perfectly Imperfect”: She's one of music's bright new talents with songs that ranged from sensuous bedroom workouts to dramatic love ballads.
9. The Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio”: The jazz pianist offered his take on how the often stagnant medium could be improved — and it was dreamy.
10. Nas, “Life Is Good”: It's been a while since Nas released an album that lived up to his arguable title as rap's greatest MC. But he delivered this year.
Chris Talbott's picks:
1. Cloud Nothings, “Attack on Memory”: Ohio's Cloud Nothings punched me with this unrepentant blast of rock that tackles big themes while musically careening down a steep, car-lined street on an out-of-control skateboard.
2. Natural Child, “For The Love of The Game” and “Hard in Heaven”: This bluesy rock trio from Nashville was on a groove so tight this year that it released two albums.
3. Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city”: This much-anticipated, Dr. Dre-sanctified release is a cinematic concept album stuffed full of examples of the Los Angeles rapper's versatility, creativity and willingness to take chances.
4. Jack White, “Blunderbuss”: “Blunderbuss,” a little bit whimsical, a little bit menacing, offered all the things we'd hoped we'd find, plus a few surprises.
5. Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls”: This debut album from the Alabama rock quartet heralds the arrival of a major talent in singer Brittany Howard, but she's not the only star here. Her bandmates craft simple but compelling, soulful music.
6. Frank Ocean, “channel ORANGE”: While “channel ORANGE” is disappointingly restrained musically, it is a triumphant example as a social document that's both fearless and insightful yet still entertaining.
7. Turbo Fruits, “Butter”: Sometimes you just want to bob your head along to mindless songs about parties and girls and fighting and motorcycles, and the third album from these rising rockers on Kings of Leon's record label helps prove EDM hasn't killed off rock 'n' roll.
8. King Tuff, “King Tuff”: Weirdly irresistible sugar-coated psychedelic pop songs that refuse to leave your brain.
9. Japandroids, “Celebration Rock”: Beginning and ending with the sound of fireworks, this Vancouver, British Columbia, two-piece's album is what its title describes — grand, anthemic songs about the great moments in life.
10. Trampled By Turtles, “Stars and Satellites”: The awesomely named Minnesota string band's gentle, introspective sixth album adds a layer of artistry and emotion only hinted at in previous work.