Mesfin Fekadu's picks:
1. Nas, Life is Good: I am a graphic classic song composer, Nas raps on the intro to his latest album. And he's right. 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. On Life, he's spitting rhymes about his ex-wife, Kelis — like the soulful Bye Baby — his daughter on Daughters and his childhood on A Queens Story. He's a top-notch lyricist with a knack for storytelling, and it all makes for impeccable music.
2. Of Monsters and Men, My Head Is an Animal: The Icelandic fivesome have melodies that are eerie, jamming, groovy and overall epic. The voices of the male and female lead singers blend so beautifully that it sounds like magic.
3. Elle Varner, Perfectly Imperfect: Her raspy and powerful voice, over crisp production, easily gives Elle Varner R&B's best offering of 2012. The 12-track set has an amazing flow that will have you hitting the replay button again, again and again!
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 both heavy and beautiful. She's got an acoustic folk-rock-soul sound that is unique, and what's best is that heavy voice of hers: This London singer sounds like she's singing straight to your soul. Well, actually, she is.
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. They got it right — he's helping change R&B without dismissing the genre's more traditional sound from acts like Faith Evans and Tamia. From Do You... to Candles In the Sun, he hits all the right notes on his sophomore disc.
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. He's going places.
. 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 over beats that are addictive and vibes that are dreamy. Now dance.
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 that was shamefully overlooked by the Recording Academy for Grammy contention in 2013. 2. Taylor Swift, Red: Last time, we had John Mayer to thank. This time around, 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 poignant, heartbreaking songs like I Almost Do or All Too Well. At 22, the former teen ingénue also flirts with sensuality on songs like Treacherous and Everything Has Changed. 3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange: Ocean's grand statement about his sexuality seemed to overshadow the real reason why he was one of music's most important figures — his impressive talent. Thinkin' Bout You gave just a taste of Ocean's allure: With the help of others, he crafted a collection of musically and lyrically daring songs that stand out starkly from the status quo of pop and R&B worlds.
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 — though her voice has been described as Joplin-esque, she's quickly proving that she's a force all her own. From hard-rocking guitar-based tracks to slower grooves, Boys & Girls simply smolders.
. Various Artists, The Hunger Games Soundtrack: Songs from District 12 and Beyond: From Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars to Miranda Lambert's Pistol Annies, this collection of songs made for the blockbuster film captured the bleakness of the novel better than the movie. In an album of highlight after highlight, the Secret Sisters' simple and beautiful Tomorrow Will Be Kinder was at the apex.
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, because it's better than 82.4 percent of what's out there today (and yes, that's my scientific survey).
8. Elle Varner, Perfectly Imperfect: Can we get a Refill of Varner for 2013? Besides her seductive hit, Varner's album showed that she's one of music's bright new talents with songs that ranged sensuous bedroom workouts to dramatic love ballads.
9. The Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio: They say you can't really criticize something if you don't have a solution to fix it. Well, with 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: Actually, Mesfin, 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 with an album that was a throwback to the beats that dominated hip-hop when New York was king of the rap game, and of course, Nas' rhymes.