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Dell Fargo is, perhaps more than anything else, a technician. On his new 10-track effort, Mental Health, the Northeast rapper brandishes a vocational polish extraordinary for a debut full-length. His writing is verbose and tempered with meticulously patterned syllables, his punchlines hit their targets, and his breath control is virtually immaculate.
Still, Mental Health is remarkable not so much for its soundness, but for its fireworks. Fargo’s gifts are on at full display when he amasses momentum, making for a breakneck vitality which rivals his precision. Verses open with the judicious tones of a tour guide, gradually increasing in pitch and emphasis until they’re transformed into frenetic monologues. The driving opener “Cinematic,” anchored by an evocative flute instrumental, plays to all of his strengths, resulting in a lively manifesto.
Fargo’s words aren’t narrative or autobiographical so much as rhetorical, but succinct furnishings serve as adequate scenery for a broken District: “Bet you never thought about shootin’ shots at the Capitol/ ‘Cause that’s who passes laws that’ll let police start harassin’ you,” he raps over the dreamy sax sample of “Bad Karma,” an early highlight. His persona is that of a charismatic, wise-beyond-his-years correspondent; if Fargo hasn’t seen it all, he’s seen enough. The epic finale “Take It Like a Man,” a duet with Rahiem Supreme, opens with a statement of purpose: “I swear I only use rapping for my insanity/ My only real relief from life’s pressures, stress, and calamity.” Together Fargo and Supreme conjure an experiential powerlessness which, while stark in its terms, doesn’t contradict any of the sentiments expressed across the tape’s 27-minute running time.
With deft production courtesy of Tallahassee, Florida, beatsmith Backpack Beatz and Newark, New Jersey’s revenxnt, Mental Health’s late-night vibe is founded upon dusty jazz bites and durable percussion. The downtempo “Vanity, Pt. 1 & 2” boasts a smoky lounge sax and earnest big-picture philosophy while retaining a stylish lyrical flair. The deep cuts are neither headbangers nor club bangers, but even those without hooks are lush, full-bodied compositions that operate within an established framework, eschewing break-loop minimalism. The effect is often reminiscent of Brooklyn’s Pro Era collective, especially given Fargo’s old-soul values delivered from a youthful perspective. “Wya” is the notable exception, a melodic pace-breaker which allows Fargo space to explore more lighthearted fare.
Although Fargo bristles with adolescent Trump-era resignation, even his most exasperated anecdotes are offset by musical smoothness, ensuring a peaceful journey into the considerable depths of his doubt and anxiety. Mental Health is a showcase of an authoritative yet palpably human rapper—a reverent, high-stakes, and inspired debut that’s exceedingly of the moment and built upon familiar touchstones. It may be a short tape, but it makes a big statement.