The Root of All Evil

p r i d e. i s . t h e . d e v i l” is a well written, layered song by J. Cole from his album, The Off-Season. While it can be perceived as an elegant piece of poetry, its low key, melodic nature allows it to be widely enjoyed by listeners with varying tastes in music. J. Cole delivers his message of what he believes is to blame for a lot of the bad things that happen to people: pride. He enhances the impact of the message with layered personification, a double entendre, and use of realistic examples throughout the song.

During the post-chorus, J. Cole personifies pride by saying,

Terrified, paranoid, I’ll put you over everything

to fill the void And when you’re gone, will I have

anything or will I be destroyed?

He calls pride ‘you’, and explains how in bad times, he is fulfilled by his pride and self-achievement. He also signifies its importance by suggesting he could be ‘destroyed’ without it. By personifying it, J. Cole allows for a better understanding of how people value pride by relating it to a person that he is conversing with. If the audience perceives this situation as conflict between two people, it lets them relate to it better and more easily, which enhances the song’s meaning to them.

At the end of the first verse, J. Cole employs a double entendre when he says,

Slowly realizing what the root of all my problems be

It got me feeling different when somebody say they proud of me

He gives the word ‘proud’ a double meaning, as it can be perceived as positive or negative. What initially springs to mind is the more common, positive way that people think of the word, the feeling that usually comes after something good has happened. However, he also links in his negative perception of pride by referring to it as the root of all of his problems. He voices his own reaction to this by saying it makes him think twice when people say they are proud of him, because while it initially seems positive for someone to be happy about something he has done, he believes that the sentiment behind pride is negative and generally causes problems. The multi-functional nature of the word makes the audience deeply consider his claim about pride, since it makes them think about the line more than they usually would. This improves the overall impact of the song to the audience.

The use of examples during the song are very important to communicating the central idea. J. Cole spreads them around the song, but many are loaded into the first verse. He says,

Make you have to use your last resort and pull a robbery

Pride be the reason for the family dichotomy

Got uncles and aunties that’s too proud to give apologies

A variety of examples are given, ranging from issues that he has witnessed first-hand in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, to problems specific to his life. In the first line of the quote, he explains how in situations such as poverty, where people often need to ask for help, pride can block that pathway for people and lead them to committing crimes such as robbery. He then switches to personal examples that explain how some of his family members have pride, which prevents them from resolving issues with other family members. These examples are common situations that many people have experienced, so the use of this technique enhances the meaning of the song by pushing the audience to think about similar things that have happened in their life, and how pride could have been involved in them.

This song is multidimensional in the way it attempts to pitch the theme that pride is the root of problems. The personification, double entendre, and realistic examples, provide the literary sophistication that J. Cole is renowned for, while truly amplifying the meaning of the song. This, along with the complexity of the lyrics and story telling, are reason enough for me to stand by this song as worthy of being poetry.

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