Eighteen years earlier than he bought out stadiums throughout the globe, Maluma was promoting ham and cheese sandwiches.
“That’s the place my entrepreneurial spirit comes from,” he says, a proud gaze peeking out from behind his black-rimmed, orange-tinted shades. As a 10-year-old in Medellín, Colombia, Maluma (born Juan Luis Londoño Arias) would neatly pack his do-it-yourself sandwiches and tote them to Hontanares Elementary College, the place he would promote them alongside lollipops. Then he would put the cash he made again into his sandwich startup.
“I purchased extra bread, extra ham, extra cheese and began to develop within the sandwich business,” Maluma says, letting out an infectious chuckle. “I’d come to highschool with my sandwiches and other people would ask me, ‘How a lot do they price?’ And I’d say, ‘How a lot do you’ve gotten?’ ” For a second, he swaps his melodic Colombian Spanish for English, unintentionally quoting Jay-Z, a fellow star turned label head: “I’m a hustler.”
For almost 20 years, that mentality has served Maluma properly. After starting his relentless pursuit of music superstardom as a highschool senior, he soared to worldwide fame because of a reggaetón-pop sound and charming bad-boy picture, turning into one of many best-selling Latin music artists on the planet. So far, Maluma has topped Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart 21 instances, landed three No. 1s on Top Latin Albums, launched into 5 world excursions and gained the Latin Grammy Award for finest new artist. In April, he placed on a monumental efficiency at Medellín’s most coveted venue, the Atanasio Girardot Stadium.
However Maluma’s desires had been by no means meant to finish there. In recent times, the singer has tapped again into his early entrepreneurial instincts, constructing a enterprise empire brick by brick by myriad industries. These embrace visible manufacturing, clothes, perfume, music streaming, hospitality, liquor (his personal mezcal) and, most lately, a Colombia-based label of his personal, Royalty Data.
“It’s loopy as a result of I by no means attended college,” he says. “I used to be at all times very averse to arithmetic. My factor was artwork. However I liked enterprise.”
The thought of launching a document label had been on Maluma’s thoughts for years. “I wasn’t on the proper time to develop it as a result of I used to be very younger,” the 28-year-old says, rapidly including, “I do know I’m nonetheless very younger, however now’s the second that I really feel mature, steady.”
He started making strikes to get Royalty Data off the bottom final yr, leaning on his supervisor, former Common Music Group (UMG) Latin president Walter Kolm, for recommendation. “I knew that I couldn’t do it alone,” says Maluma. “Walter helped me construction issues a bit.”
Kolm, whom Maluma lovingly calls “Wally,” was launched to Maluma almost a decade in the past whereas in Colombia supporting his artist Carlos Vives on the awards present Premios Nuestra Tierra. “I bumped into [a friend] within the business,” Kolm remembers, “and I requested him, ‘What are you doing right here in Colombia?’ And he says, ‘I’m working with a chamaquito [kid] who’s going to be very massive in the future. His identify is Maluma. Take note of him.’ ”
Kolm did greater than that, signing the then-18-year-old singer to his administration firm, Walter Kolm Leisure. Shortly after, Kolm known as up former UMG colleague Miguel Lua to carry him into the fold as managing accomplice and head of world advertising of his firm. Years later, as Maluma was establishing Royalty Data, he enlisted Lua as advertising director, and his legal professional, Felipe Carreño, to deal with the label’s authorized wants; each have labored intently with the artist over the previous decade. “It’s like a robust trident,” says Maluma. “We every have our strengths in areas which might be very totally different.”
“[Maluma] at all times had his eyes set on massive objectives,” provides Lua, who earlier than partnering with Kolm was UMG Latin’s director of city advertising. “It was virtually like he already noticed his future rolled out in entrance of him and simply needed to transfer the items alongside — he’s the hardest-working artist I’ve ever labored with.”
Lua and Carreño doubling as Maluma’s label companions and right-hand males is one thing the artist views as a testomony to his belief for the 2 — plus, he says, they’re at all times touring collectively, so it’s straightforward for them to collectively develop the label’s signees. “They’re individuals who have been with me by the great and not-so-good instances,” he says. “I wouldn’t let the profession of my artists be within the improper arms.”
He’s now targeted on finalizing a distributor — and whereas Maluma declines to verify which firm will get the nod, he alludes to a number of gives and sounds extra confident than ever. “If I knock on the doorways of The Orchard,” he says confidently, arms crossed in his lap, “I do know they’ll let me in and need to be a part of this dream.”
Operating a label could also be new territory for Maluma. However A&R and artist growth isn’t — simply ask 22-year-old Colombian urbano artist Blessd.
In early 2021, a buddy performed Maluma Blessd’s single “Imposible.” On the time, the budding artist had a substantial following — one which tripled from 4 million to 12 million month-to-month listeners on Spotify after Maluma hopped on an “Imposible” remix; later, he even provided up his personal Medellín house to function the backdrop for the music video. “That’s the place the friendship started,” says Blessd. “We turned parceros [partners]; we began taking part in soccer collectively. He helped me by opening so many doorways. I really feel that I owe a variety of my profession to what he has executed for me.”
Blessd’s “Imposible (Remix)” with Maluma has garnered 70 million YouTube views, in contrast with 9 million for the unique clip. “Within the streets, we now have a saying, ‘Él es mi papá [He’s my dad]’ — you say it about somebody who has your again,” says Blessed, who signed to JM World Music in 2019 and Cigol Music Group stateside in 2021. “It was precisely that with Maluma. Thank God it wasn’t within the streets, however in music.”
After mentoring Blessd, Maluma was impressed to deal with breaking acts out of Colombia, and he’s making use of that mentality to creating the Royalty Data roster. “Maluma by no means felt like he was given a hand by the era that got here earlier than him, particularly in Colombia,” Lua says. “I feel that actually sparked his curiosity in serving to new expertise.”
Maluma lights up when publicly discussing his preliminary two signees for the primary time, having finalized their offers simply weeks in the past; he appears much more excited talking about them than when he discusses his personal milestone profession moments. First got here pop singer Abril. Maluma found the 23-year-old (who hails from Santander, which borders Medellín) by a singing contest he developed in partnership with a Colombian radio station that introduced in over 2,000 contestants. The grand prize: taking the stage alongside Maluma to carry out his February single, “Cositas de la USA” (“Little Issues From the USA”), for the large Medallo en el Mapa stadium present, to be livestreamed on Amazon Prime Video in April.
After Maluma sifted by “virtually all” of the covers of “Cositas” alongside buddy and música urbana mainstay Dimelo King, Abril caught his consideration. “She improved the music, and that was what impressed me,” he says. “It was like, ‘Wow, she doesn’t simply do it properly. She does it excellently.’ ”
Two weeks of rigorous rehearsals later, Abril went from singing Maluma’s songs in her bed room to staring straight into his eyes and harmonizing with him in entrance of 55,000 cheering Medellín followers. Shortly after, Abril turned the primary signee to Royalty Data, which Maluma says wasn’t a part of the plan for the in-the-works label. “She has a mastery of the stage, of the cameras, an perspective that makes you say, ‘Wow, this lady behaves like J.Lo.’ ” (Maluma would know: He starred alongside Jennifer Lopez within the 2022 rom-com Marry Me.)
He discovered his subsequent signee, regional Mexican singer Paulina B., in a extra uncommon approach — by a WhatsApp message from his father, Luis Alfonso Londoño. Two months in the past, in the course of the European leg of his Papi Juancho world tour, Maluma bought a textual content with a hyperlink to 18-year-old Paulina’s Instagram web page. After watching a video of her singing a canopy of his single “Sobrio” (“Sober”), Maluma was bought. “I inform Miguel, ‘Cabrón, write to her now. If we don’t inform this lady that we would like her, one other artist or label goes to signal her.’ ”
Lua spoke with Paulina that day, and inside weeks, Carreño and Alfonso met with the teenager, who was able to signal to Royalty, in Medellín. “It’s as if God put these two angels on my path and instructed me, ‘Yo, Juan Luis, I’m providing you with these two stars so you may advance them and put your complete group round them,’ and that’s what we did,” Maluma says.
“I’m positive that Maluma and his group don’t want to assist new artists develop, however they do it as a result of they need to assist make desires a actuality,” says Paulina. “I really feel absolutely supported by Maluma and his group on the subject of selling the regional pop style so it turns into a worldwide development.”
He could also be a newly minted govt, however the Maluma who arrives at his Billboard cowl shoot in Brooklyn — flanked by his tight-knit group and his trusty Doberman sidekick, Buda — continues to be very a lot a star. It’s an intensely humid 85 levels, however he exuberantly twirls his hips to a Marc Anthony music, a contagious smile on his face and a heavy, black cape whooshing behind him with each motion. He resembles a Colombian superhero — and for a lot of, together with his younger signees, that’s precisely what he’s.
“I do all this to develop my wealth, however not as a result of I need to be buried with the cash. It’s not like, ‘I’m useless, throw all of the hundreds of thousands within the coffin,’ ” he says. “It’s as a result of I need to create an enterprise. I need to create employment. I need to advance [my] nation. I need to see individuals do properly.”
All the choices Maluma makes, from selecting his stage identify — a composite of his mom, father and sister’s (Marlli, Luis and Manuela) — to enterprise a brand new enterprise enterprise, are rooted within the values he discovered from the ladies who raised him in Medellín as a child with boundless aspirations. After his dad and mom separated when he was 12, Maluma’s household confronted a interval of adversity. “To see your loved ones in want of meals,” he says, “makes you assume, ‘F–ok, I’ve to exit on the road and bust my ass to get forward and provides my household every thing they want.’ ”
The identical work ethic that fueled his sandwich enterprise and helped his mom put meals on the desk allowed Maluma to finally understand his wildest desires. “As a child, I bear in mind the primary time I got here to New York and noticed an enormous Macy’s Justin Bieber assortment billboard in Occasions Sq.,” he remembers. “I used to be like, ‘I’ve to do one thing like this.’ ”
A decade later, Maluma made good on that, collaborating with Macy’s for his first-ever clothes line, the Royalty by Maluma assortment. “Now we’re conquering the final market,” he says. “I need 70-year-old American women to cross by Macy’s and see Maluma and say, ‘Who is that this? I need to go see him.’ ”
Contemplating the laundry listing of ventures Maluma has taken on — which since 2016 has additionally included an arts schooling nonprofit, El Arte de los Sueños, which he runs along with his sister — it might be comprehensible if his personal music profession in some unspecified time in the future took a again seat. Besides it by no means has. His newest launch, June’s The Love & Intercourse Tape, was a ardour challenge meant to introduce an “city, underground” sound that Maluma felt he lacked. “I attempt to not really feel industrial stress from my followers, and even the music business or the Grammys,” he says. “On the finish of the day, I launch [music] relying on the vibe I’m feeling.”
In 2020, Maluma linked up with The Weeknd for the remix of his personal “Hawái.” The collaboration was the Spanish-language star’s first bilingual remix, one thing he was initially reluctant to attempt. However after The Weeknd’s group stated that the R&B-pop star was excited by working with him, the remix turned Maluma’s greatest Billboard Hot 100 hit thus far, peaking at No. 12.
“A majority of these collabs proceed to indicate how Latin music is popular globally,” says Maluma, emphasizing the identify of the chart-dominating style. In June, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine posted a black-and-white picture alongside a laughing Maluma at a studio; a collaboration, which got here by means of Maluma’s longtime producers, The Impolite Boyz, shall be featured on a forthcoming challenge by the manufacturing duo.
With upcoming single “Junio” due in September and his personal subsequent album slated for early 2023, Maluma is shifting into new sonic territory, a pop-rock sound not like something he has executed earlier than. He was impressed by the Argentine music of his dad and mom’ era and his personal early-2000s influences: “We actually wished to carry that sound of Los Enanitos Verdes and Soda Stereo into the current day. To me, it’s a style that can’t die.”
For the brand new album, Maluma known as upon longtime collaborator and 18-time Latin Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Edgar Barrera. The 2 met early on of their careers, when the now embellished producer was an intern for acclaimed Colombian producer Andrés Castro and Maluma had signed his administration cope with Kolm. Whereas Maluma labored with extra skilled producers within the studio, Barrera was one flooring above, piecing collectively the guasca-infused observe that may finally elevate Maluma’s profession, “Sin Contrato” (“No Strings”).
“I current the concept of ‘Sin Contrato’ to Andrés, and he tells me, ‘I’ll ship it to Maluma to see what he thinks,’ ” Barrera remembers. “Maluma comes again two weeks later and we work on the music, and within the studio, there was immediate chemistry between us. Maluma got here to work with different individuals within the studio and ended up solely utilizing the songs that he made with me.”
Barrera landed two songs on Maluma’s 2015 album, Fairly Boy, Soiled Boy — together with “Sin Contrato,” which topped the Latin Airplay and Latin Rhythm Airplay charts, along with amassing over 1 billion YouTube views — and 11 tracks on Maluma’s breakout challenge, 2018’s F.A.M.E., the artist’s first No. 1 on Prime Latin Albums. Now collaborating on Maluma’s sixth studio album, the duo are venturing outdoors of their “security zone,” in line with Barrera, in an effort to develop industrial Latin music at giant — fusing mainstream pop music with genres like merengue or ranchera.
“I’m searching for a sound that feels recent for Maluma and for Latin pop music,” says Barrera. “Harry Types simply did a tremendous pop album that’s killing it, and I feel we are able to benefit from the truth that Latin music is opening up extra proper now. The songs which might be standing out probably the most are not [just] reggaetón.”
How precisely Maluma manages to make time for, properly, every thing, is, as he sees it, easy: “All of us have the identical 24 hours.” However rapidly, he provides a caveat: “Not everyone seems to be fortunate sufficient to have a wholesome thoughts. I’m fortunate that I’ve a psychological steadiness.”
To take care of that, Maluma spends time at his farm in Colombia, sips wine and sings songs along with his buddies till 2 a.m., and meditates. “I can’t carry the load of the world as a result of if I collapse, every thing collapses,” he says. “I do know that the precedence, the No. 1 key, is me being properly, calm and completely satisfied.” The psychological well being challenges that musicians of his stature face is one thing he typically discusses with fellow Colombian star J Balvin. “I inform him, ‘Cabrón, it’s unimaginable, with the stress we face, to have this psychological steadiness.’ It’s one thing we each fought loads for.”
For Maluma, a part of that struggle was studying to say “no.” Working example: his touring schedule. 4 years had handed since his final hometown efficiency following the discharge of F.A.M.E., in entrance of 15,000 at Plaza de Toros la Macarena. “I didn’t need to tour,” he admits. “I’m sorry, however I’ve to be trustworthy. I didn’t need to tour till I did crucial arenas, and everybody thought I used to be loopy.”
His persistence paid off — not just for himself, however for all of Medellín. The hometown hero packed town’s greatest venue, Atanasio Girardot Stadium, with almost 55,000 followers in April. After the present, he says town generated round $12 million from the tourism his live performance attracted.
When his subsequent present in Colombia will occur, nonetheless, stays undetermined. “After Medallo en el Mapa, I had gives to do 4 or 5 concert events in Colombia — Cartagena, Cali, Bogotá — and the reality is, I stated ‘no,’ ” he says. “It’s actually troublesome to prime that. It’s not about merely going, amassing the baggage of cash and going house. The true funding is within the model. The extra beneficial the model, the extra you may cost, the larger the concert events.”
Promoting out Colombia’s greatest stadium fulfilled certainly one of Maluma’s desires, giving approach to a brand new one: “to go to Israel with my household.” However when the chance arose, he turned it down. “I stated, ‘If I’m going there, it’s as a result of I [also] need to sing in Israel.’ And the primary time we went, there have been 30,000 individuals at my Israel live performance.”
A Latin artist from Medellín could seem an unlikely candidate to attract 30,000 followers 7,000 miles away in Israel, however, as Kolm places it, Maluma’s charisma and authenticity transcend language and borders. “He’s a phenomenon that jogs my memory a variety of what Ricky Martin was throughout ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca,’ ” Kolm says. “They don’t perceive what he’s saying, however everybody goes as a result of it’s an expertise.”
Kolm — who handles Maluma’s touring in-house at his administration firm, except U.S. touring, which matches by Cárdenas Advertising and marketing Community — additionally mentions that one other distant nation, Switzerland, is certainly one of Maluma’s greatest markets. “The important thing to the success of Maluma’s excursions is the present he places on,” says Kolm. “Maluma isn’t an artist who stands on a stage with lights and a display screen. It’s fairly the present, and the entire tour is at all times altering.”
An artist with that type of attain, nonetheless in his prime, might be forgiven for saving govt strikes for later in life. However very similar to he did as a child entrepreneur, Maluma continues to be pondering far past his newest wins. “Once I’m 35, I don’t plan to work like I do now as a result of it comes at a value,” he says. “I’ve different desires, I’ve different priorities. I need to have a household [of my own].” Staying within the second whereas seeing the massive image is a troublesome steadiness to strike, however for Maluma, there’s no query as as to if he can pull it off.
“On my approach right here, I noticed some graffiti that stated…” He pats his pockets, then asks his assistant to carry over his cellphone. “It stated one thing like what we’re speaking about.” His iPhone arrives, and Maluma consults the picture he had sought. “Right here we go. It says: ‘You’re alive, however are you dwelling?’ ”
This story will appear in the Sept. 17, 2022, issue of Billboard.