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BEST ALBUMS OF 2012: Martín Caballero

"Life is Good," the latest release by Nas.AP/Def Jam

Death Grips

"The Money Tree" Loud, aggressive, and about as subtle as a kick to the face, the first of two albums released by the Sacramento band this year features them channeling the spirit of 2 Live Crew on "I've Seen Footage" and dreaming of beating up cops on the glitch-happy "Hustle Bones." It's also unrepentantly awesome.


"Control System" This quietly brilliant sophomore release from the Carson, Calif., rapper is nothing less than staggering at times; his pointed stances on relationships ("Double Standards") and government conspiracies ("Terrorist Threats," with Danny Brown) are highlights, but best is the staggering confessional cut "Book of Soul."


Roc Marciano

"Reloaded" As brutal and single-minded as his namesake, Long Island's Roc Marciano channels the vividly detailed crime-soaked lyricism of New York forefathers Kool G Rap and Prodigy throughout his cinematic second album, filled with dusty drums and minimalist jazz and psych rock loops (see the Q-Tip produced "Thread Count").

Kendrick Lamar

"Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City" Expectations were justifiably high for the major label debut of Dr. Dre's Compton-born protege, but few could have predicted something this brilliant: billed as a "short film," GKMC is a rewarding, absorbing listen with rich characters and story, as the titular kid's survival struggle unfolds over stellar production.

Killer Mike

"R.A.P. Music" When finally paired with the right producer (El-P), Atlanta's Killer Mike is given a real shot at fulfilling his potential on a full-length project, and he doesn't miss his chance. Brimming with confidence, Mike stomps through 12 potent tracks of story raps ("JoJo's Chillin"), political fire and brimstone ("Reagan"), and the testimonial title track.



"Life Is Good" Post-divorce Nas isn't just hip-hop's reigning premier lyricist — he's happy too, which translates into his most focused and inviting album ever. He eases into his various roles as street narrator ("Loco-Motive"), wise elder ("Daughters"), and purebred emcee ("Nasty") like someone with another 20 years left in him, assuming he continues using beats like these.

The Alchemist

"Russian Roulette" If there's a niche market for instrumental hip-hop opuses based on "Rocky IV" and Soviet-era Euro prog-rock, Alchemist has found it not a moment too soon. A pastiche of lo-fi samples and nods to '80s pop culture make this 30-track suite greater than the sum of its parts.

Action Bronson & Party SupplieS

"Blue Chips" New York rap's salvation won't come in the form of any grand statement, but in a lot more small ones like this ludicrously fun record from Queens chef-cum-rapper Action Bronson and producer Party Supplies. Hastily assembled from found YouTube samples and single takes on a bad mike, it's lowbrow brilliance.

Flying Lotus

"Until the Quiet Comes" The LA-based producer has spent the last few years wowing critics with his talent for heavily textured and nuanced beats, but his fourth album disposes of the indulgent flourishes in favor of a more expressive approach on cuts like the title track and "All the Secrets."



"Cancer 4 Cure" The former Company Flow rapper/producer's third album doesn't share Nas's sentiments: El-P is at his best when openly grappling with his various issues, which he gladly fleshes out in detail over some his best production in years. "Full Retard" pounds like a cheap beer blackout, but so does "The Jig Is Up," with pathos thrown in for good measure.



"Adieu or Die" An appropriately trippy journey through the Beach Boys discography, Will C's sample-based instrumental album approaches the material with deep respect and reverence that result in some knockout moments ("Dialation") but still with a warm wit amongst the madness.