Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. True love songs are hard to come by these days. Deriving its name from Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a series of lyric breakdowns in which VIBE Senior Music Editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.
I’m an impressive person. This may seem like a beneficial thing to be, but it’s actually made certain parts of my professional life quite difficult. Being uniquely skilled at what I do through practice and not necessarily natural-born talent makes me impatient with people who don’t possess a similar work ethic. And being uniquely accomplished makes me even less patient with people I bump heads with. Ego is at times a great inconvenience. But it also fuels the audacity needed to do what I’ve done in the first place, so there are very few things I’d trade it for. One of those things is love.
Having met other impressive people, I know I’m not alone in this experience. So, when I first heard “Ego,” the closing track on Lucky Daye’s Candydrip, I felt a vague closeness to the six-time Grammy-nominated singer. As a writer, someone so confident in his thoughts he presumes others should read them, the juice my ego produces is crucial to my work, which means it’s sometimes worth the squeeze that comes with conflict. The exact opposite is the case within the bounds of romantic relationships. Ironically, the writing in Daye’s “Ego” explains why.
Essentially, the song is about balancing self-love and selflessness, and how surrendering yourself to another person’s love almost definitionally means setting your ego aside. This is a fascinating thing to think about. While courtesy and respect help me work better with people, I don’t really have much use for affection in professional settings. This leaves room for a healthy ego to thrive. But in romantic partnerships, affection is the whole point, and courtesy and respect are just part of the deal.
One key to maintaining a successful relationship is to pursue love on those terms, knowing that the absence of affection is the only thing that allows your ego to breathe, and that to grasp the former you must let go of the latter. The unwritten contract you sign when you commit to another person stipulates your life is no longer just about your life. When conflict arises between partners, which happens in all relationships, those who work through it typically remember this.
Is that you, baby?
Check when you’re makin’ no sense
In this hotel bed
Feels like, “What are we doin’?”
But I’d be selfish
Bailin’ on you or bailin’ for new repair
If it’s love, why we break it? Oh woah
No one to save me
Your spark got lazy
Now our hearts are breakin’
“Ego” begins with meditative strings and soft harmonizing from a group of backup vocalists, uninterrupted for nearly a minute. Following such a peaceful opening, the first verse feels surprisingly argumentative (“Check when you’re makin’ no sense”). Eventually, the verse reaches an ultimatum, as Daye acknowledges it’d be selfish of him to abandon his partner at this moment.
The conflict continues in the pre-chorus, only now it’s more internal. As Daye wonders how true love could possibly be breakable and accounts for how lonely a circumstance like that leaves him, he considers a possibility that often infuriates people who are in touch with their egos—that someone else didn’t work as hard at something as he did.
You know I want you for mine
Lord knows I gotta fly
Where to draw the line?
I’m workin’ on my ego (Ego, ego, ego)
For we go, we go
Girl, I want you all the time
I been lovin’ on you blind
And that ain’t a free throw
Workin’ on my ego (Ego, ego, ego)
Oh, mm, oh woah
Delivered with a sort of staccato cadence, the chorus of “Ego” isn’t only insightful, it’s catchy as hell. It also feels like a turning point in the song, as Daye takes accountability for his ego. The economy of these lyrics is admirable. So much is said in quick, four-to-five-word thoughts.
First, Daye admits to his partner the most important truth of the situation: he wants her. But then he acknowledges his need to be himself before wondering where to draw the line. “I’m workin’ on my ego,” he resolves. What follows is perhaps the most interesting part of the chorus. After reiterating his desire to be with his partner, he notes how challenging it is to offer someone that sort of blind devotion. This is an important observation.
Accomplished people typically become who and what they are via some measure of shrewdness. Almost everything they do, including whatever work they consider their passion, is done with cold calculation. But that’s not how people love. Unlike everything else in life outside of religion and voting in a two-party political system, love requires you to have illogical faith in someone. The only difference between the three is God and politicians can’t be negotiated with, but lovers can be swayed with a little humility.
I learned to lovе myself less
And now I felt it (Fеlt it, felt it)
Sometimes, my heart gets helpless
Don’t abuse it (Don’t abuse it)
Easy for me to care and you want me there
If it’s love, why we take it? Oh woah
No one to save me
Your spark got lazy
Now our hearts are breakin’
Verse two begins with my favorite lyrics of the song: “Selfless/ I learned to love myself less.” I’d argue my ego is a manifestation of self-awareness. That sounds like a joke but I’m being serious. So, with that belief, when people attempt to disabuse me of my ego, it feels like they’re asking me to love myself less. Of course, that’s not actually what they’re suggesting. But that’s what it feels like.
With self-awareness comes the responsibility of being aware of the world I live in, though. What separates ego from narcissism is the ability to resist the false narrative of victimhood and realize what people are truly asking is for me to love them more. As Daye wallows throughout the rest of the verse, claiming to be helpless against the person whose love he answers to, the song reiterates its pre-chorus and primary chorus before winding down with a bridge and outro that together feel more respectable.
Let’s just call it out
Call me up
Don’t wanna run
Every time I get that feelin’, I just rather be stuck…
No one can break me
No one can make me
You’re my ego
Half on it, baby
Personally, it isn’t hard to check my ego at the door when I come home, because no other accomplishment fulfills me the way the bond that I’ve built with my partner does. Therefore, nothing else feels as precious. Forgive the following pun, but I don’t feel particularly lucky to have done anything in my career. Both mine and God’s will are what made those things happen. But when I consider the fact that I’ve found the person I’m meant to be with, and that I get to spend my life by her side, luck is the only phenomenon that could possibly explain how that came to be.
Those who are as lucky as I am in this regard know there’s no greater source of pride than what comes from holding onto someone you feel blessed to have in your life in the first place. As Lucky Daye confidently sings, “No one can break me/ No one can make me,” the following line explains why: “You’re my ego.”
If you’re truly in love with someone, sacrificing your ego for them won’t feel like a divestment. It’ll feel like a currency exchange; one valuable good for another. At the end of that exchange, you break even, with your partner filling you with the same power your all-important ego does every other part of the day. As we all try to make our way in the world with some form of dignity intact, no other benefit of love feels more vital.