9th Wonder, The Wonder Years (It's a Wonderful World)
No producer is doing better work right now than 9th Wonder. An all-star cast of emcees cedes to the North Carolina beatsmith's judgment, who flips an R&B approach into a banging treatise on love---of lovers, and of hip-hop culture.
The Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See (Domino)
The Arctic Monkeys remind that a heart still burns and beats inside them with a carefully curated selection of tongue-twisting, cleverly crafted love songs. It's poetry without pretense over contagious riff work.
Blu, NoYork! (Warner)
Blu has always been leagues smarter than your average rapper. With NoYork!, a lush tribute to an avant-garde West Coast, he gets a whole lot wiser. Get wise to this album, which was just one of the three he released this year.
Drake, Take Care (Young Money)
Subtract five songs, and this would have qualified as the album of the year. The early-to-middle tracks have the same raw emotional heft and full-album unity that made Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy so good.
The Roots, undun (Def Jam)
They finally do it---undun has every hallmark of a hip-hop classic. The band's elegiac yet unflinching look at the passion of life and the wantonness of death on Philadelphia's poorest streets makes this every bit a Philly Illmatic.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar) Childish Gambino, Camp (Glassnote)
Laura Marling, A Creature I Don't Know (Virgin)
Phonte, Charity Starts At Home (Foreign Exchange)
TV On The Radio, Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
The Weeknd, House of Balloons (XO)
All-time favourite album: A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory. First album ever bought: SoulDecision's No One Does It Better. Lost virginity to: MGMT's Oracular Spectacular followed, because of alphabetical iTunes playlisting, by Missy Elliot's Under Construction.