Nicki Minaj’s “All Things Go” and the Power of Vulnerability from Strong Women

“Every woman is multifaceted,” Nicki Minaj noted in her recent Complex cover story. “Every woman has a switch, whether she’s going to be maternal, whether she’s going to be a man-eater, whether she has to kick ass, whether she has to be one of the boys, whether she has to show the guys that she’s just as smart or smarter, she’s just as talented or creative. Women suppress a lot of their sides.”

As Minaj has prepared for the release of The Pinkprint on December 15, her numerous magazine covers and media appearances — not to mention album singles “Anaconda” and “Only” — have framed her in the usual boss-ass bitch way. But even in her early mixtape days — when her Queens-bred, Weezy-approved street rapper side was emphasized more — Minaj been about strength exclusively. She’s more vulnerable than a casual listener may believe, based on her persona alone. You hear it on “Autobiography,” the standout of her 2008 mixtape Sucka Free. To some extent, you hear it on Pink Friday single “Right Thru You” and The Pinkprint‘s “Pills N Potions.” But nowhere has Nicki’s vulnerability come across as clearly as it does on the latest leaked Pinkprint song, opening track “All Things Go.” (The leaks have been scrubbed from the internet already, but the track is available for sale on iTunes.)

The rap ballad’s first verse finds Minaj revealing a marriage proposal a decade ago, at age 21: “Ten years ago was when you proposed/ I looked down… ‘Yes, I suppose.'” The second verse details the 2011 homicide of her cousin, Nicholas Telemaque, outside a Brooklyn nightclub. On the third verse, Minaj goes deep into her family life with a strong dose of guilt: “I love my mother more than life itself and that’s a fact/ I’d give it all if I could somehow just rekindle that/ She never understands why I’m so over-protective/ The more I work the more I feel like they’re neglected.”

As Minaj slowly works her way towards the end of the downbeat song, she opens up more and more, finally noting: “I want Caiah [her younger brother, Micaiah] to go to college just to say we did it/ My child with Aaron, would’ve have been 16 any minute/ So in some ways I feel like Caiah is the both of them/ It’s like he’s Cai’s little angel looking over him.” Looking ahead with hope, she raps: “As long as seven years from now, I’m taking my daughter to preschool.”

While some outlets have made a point of noting that “All Things Go” hints at abortion and reveals something new about Minaj, those who’ve followed her career closely know this subject has come up before, in her early days. On the aforementioned “Autobiography,” Minaj raps about regretting an abortion she had as a teenager: “Please baby forgive me, mommy was young, mommy was to busy tryna have fun/ And now I don’t pat myself on the back for sending you back/ Cause God knows I was better than that to conceive then leave you.”

People like to say that Nicki Minaj is guarded about her personal life. Songs like “All Things Go” and “Autobiography” prove that while Nicki tries to keep her private matters out of the tabloids, she’ll open up when the moment feels right. She’s been doing it a little bit lately, too, in the press, specifically on the topic of motherhood and guilt.

“If I’m done with my fifth album and I don’t have a child by then, no matter how much money I have, I would be disappointed, as a woman, because I feel like I was put here to be a mother,” she told Complex. “I have definitely put off the wife thing because I don’t want people in my business. I’d rather not do anything that’s going to be on paper but I definitely will be married before I have my baby. I want to make sure I do it in that order. I’ve always felt like that since I was young; my mother always put that in my head. By the fifth album, I will have walked down the aisle and I will at least be on baby number one, possibly baby number two. [Laughs.] And have $500 million.”

Minaj has described The Pinkprint as being about her “family, loss, death, guilt…. I’ve struggled with a lot of guilt.” Frankly, I’m excited to hear those tracks about guilt and loss. When Nicki commits to her vulnerability, like she does on “All Things Go” and “Autobiography,” she shows the flipside of being a strong woman — a woman who contains multitudes and has lived through complicated times. It’s an important distinction to make in a pop landscape that often defines Nicki as over-the-top and fierce. Even though she is, that’s not all she is.