With the 2018 release of his Latin Grammy-winning album, F.A.M.E. — as well as charting hits with Shakira, and the late, controversy-ridden rapper XXXTentacion — the Colombian singer-songwriter seemed primed for global crossover stardom. But despite the success of lead single “Felices Los 4,” plus radio-ready cameos from Timbaland, Prince Royce and Jason Derulo, F.A.M.E. didn’t quite realize Maluma’s American dream.
So came to be Maluma’s fourth studio album, and a Hail Mary of sorts. Inspired by “angel numbers” (a repetitive sequence deemed auspicious by spiritualists), 11:11 sees Maluma betting on a future — not just in his home turf of reggaeton, nor in Latin music — but in pop at large. It’s most evident in his features: among them Madonna, Ty Dolla $ign, and one of the original Latin crossover kings, Ricky Martin. But there’s room for unsung talents, too: Panamanian newcomer Sech, imparts his R&B tenor on “Instinto Natural” while Colombian diva Farina gets her close-up in “Puesto Pa’ Ti.”
Maluma meanders from the dancehall-inflected “No Se Me Quita,” breezes through the English-language club jam “Tu Vecina” and breathes cool into the classic salsa sound in “Te Quiero.” But for a guy who’d hoped to shed his rep as a single-genre artist, Maluma shines brightest in his reggaeton tracks. Urbano pop titans like Ozuna and Zion y Lennox provide contrast to the slickness of Maluma’s come-ons; Chencho Corleone, of the legendary Puerto Rican duo Plan B, flies high in the cumbiatón hybrid “La Flaca.” Producer Tainy‘s idiosyncrasy comes through in synthy currents, underpinning the Nicky Jam-assisted “No Puedo Olvidarte” with an arty flourish. It’s a timeless groove, save for unmistakably 2019 lyrics: “Like Ozuna, I’ll give you ‘Taki Taki’,” they sing, “I’m Offset and you’re my Cardi, baby.”
Maluma notably breaks from the rascally machismo that colored his previous records. In lead single “HP,” he lends sympathetic verses to a woman who ditches her deadbeat boyfriend; and begs another to leave her abuser in the soapy piano ballad, “Dinero Tiene Cualquiera.” Yet it’s impossible to honor Maluma’s female-forward turn without considering his checkered past, namely the backlash he faced for his 2016 song, “Cuatro Babys,” followed by “Felices Los 4,” the sequel. Told from the perspective of a Casanova who cycles between four girlfriends, two of Maluma’s most popular songs drew criticism from womens’ groups, not to mention a scathing online petition which garnered over 90,000 signatures. Enter Madonna, who knows a thing or two about inciting a scandal — and in true Catholic fashion, bouncing back with an act of pop contrition. She flexes her girl power in “Soltera,” an ode to living single; but leaves most of the Spanish, namely the gratuitous mamacita‘s, to Maluma. “I’m not a girl you drink like wine,” quips Madge, “Ciao, papí.”
While his fellow countryman J Balvin has doggedly furthered the ascendance of urbano in the American mainstream, Maluma’s greatest strength lies in his adaptability. As part of a new generation of Latin vocalists racing to win the hearts of fans stateside, and well beyond, 11:11 sees Maluma at the brink of the finish line.