20. The MenOpen Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

You know what makes a good holiday gift basket? Variety. Sure, chocolate is cool, but also throw in some of those cheddar twists if you could. That’s kind of how the Men’s third full-length album is. It’s got psych rock and screaming punk songs, but it also has hazy surf moments and countrified slow jams. It’s an album that sates both the sweet and the savory sides of your appetite, a balanced, grimy, tightly constructed undertaking by the New York quartet. -CW
 


19. NasLife Is Good (Def Jam)

The past couple of albums from Nas have found the hip-hop great going through the motions, sounding detached, lost and comparing women to fried chicken. But Nas gets personal on his 10th studio album, rapping about his ex, Kelis, being a protective dad and getting his start in Queens. He sounds grounded, wizened, an old dude hanging out on a neighborhood porch just waiting for you to shut up so he can teach you some things. -CW
 


18. FuturePluto (Epic/A1/Free Bandz)

In a year when most artists were either stuck in their heads, firmly planted in the political present or lost in the past, Atlanta strip-club-enthusiast Future didn’t just show us a new world—he built one. Using learned bits of Dungeon-friendly Afrofuturism, T-Pain’s lonely A.I. robo-warble and a team of like-minded producers, the rapper, born Nayvadius Wilburn, constructed a chilly, unforgiving wasteland of a planet then lovingly filled it with his wildest fantasies (“Astronaut Chick”) and his deepest pain (“Permanent Scar”). I’ve never been to space, but I pray it’s like this. -DJ
 


17. Action BronsonBlue Chips (Fool’s Gold/Reebok Classics)

Wherein the New York rap goofball Action Bronson out-gimmicks himself free of his two previous cartoon personas (Ghostface-biter and chef-goon, respectively), transforming into a gleeful, Google-rap amorphous blob of wicked punchlines, crummy sexual politics and surprising emotional depth. More so than on the equally ball-busting but somewhat-monotonous Rare Chandeliers, this tape reveals our blunt-rolling, beard-growing, vegetable-dicing hero to be a hilarious yet poignant man of the people, talking about failed relationships and daddy issues with the same level of verbal acumen he reserves for pro-wrestler gags and cunnilingus zingers. Instantly quotable but deceptively complex. -DJ
 


16. Schoolboy QHabits And Contradictions (Top Dawg)

Three of the four members of the Black Hippy rap collective out of L.A. released an LP this year, and Schoolboy Q was the one to kick it off in January with his sophomore album. Through a stoned-out haze and dragging drums, Q slouches as often as he pounces through dark, dry verses about sex, drugs and growing up L.A. It’s classic West Coast rap in its themes and attack, coupled with samples from Menomena, Lissie and Portishead that give it cross-genre appeal. “Life for me is just weed and brews,” Q says, but if you push through his Saturday nights, you’ll find a guy who’s also talking about violence, failure and just plain hurt to the steady thump of the rhythm. -CW

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