2012 was the year that the music industry put its foot down. Although pirating music hasn't been stopped completely, the open spigot of the last decade tightened in the wake of the fall of Megaupload and other popular file sharing sites. And yet, there was seemingly more music to consume than ever before. As soon as you had warmed up to one project, there was another to digest.

Artists throwing out mixtapes in between albums—Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa—found their albums undercut by the need to keep a buzz sustained, but with official label releases meaning less each day, spreading content thin doesn't necessarily marginalize overall impact. At the same time, we learned that a market for long-winded, thought-out albums still exists. Nas and Frank Ocean released projects heavy on presentation and concept to massive critical acclaim.

2012 was a great year for music across the board. This is a fact that's made less arguable as the Internet allows listeners to find the niche that fits them best during each successive year. The biggest records of the year managed to bridge across niches, appealing to a cross-section of fan bases and even, occasionally, selling some copies.

From the return of Fiona Apple to the arrival of Chief Keef, these are The 50 Best Albums of 2012.

RELATED: The 50 Best Songs of 2012
RELATED: The 25 Best Album Covers of 2012
RELATED: 25 Rap Albums From the Past Decade That Deserve Classic Status
RELATED: The Top 50 Albums of 2013