Eighteen years before he sold out stadiums across the globe, Maluma was selling ham and cheese sandwiches.
“That’s where 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 homemade sandwiches and tote them to Hontanares Elementary School, where he would sell them alongside lollipops. Then he would put the money he made back into his sandwich startup.
“I bought more bread, more ham, more cheese and started to grow in the sandwich industry,” Maluma says, letting out an infectious chuckle. “I’d come to school with my sandwiches and people would ask me, ‘How much do they cost?’ And I’d say, ‘How much do you have?’ ” For a moment, he swaps his melodic Colombian Spanish for English, unintentionally quoting Jay-Z, a fellow star turned label head: “I’m a hustler.”
For nearly two decades, that mentality has served Maluma well. After beginning his relentless pursuit of music superstardom as a high school senior, he soared to international fame thanks to a reggaetón-pop sound and charming bad-boy image, becoming one of the best-selling Latin music artists in the world. To date, Maluma has topped Billboard’s Latin Airplay chart 21 times, landed three No. 1s on Top Latin Albums, embarked on five world tours and won the Latin Grammy Award for best new artist. In April, he put on a monumental performance at Medellín’s most coveted venue, the Atanasio Girardot Stadium.
Read Maluma’s full Latin Power Players cover story here.