Will the real Maluma Baby please stand up? Breaking out five years ago with the dyadic major label debut Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, the Colombian star has cosplayed both inamorato and lothario, picking and choosing which side to whip out on any given track. In practice, though, he’s rarely as convincing as the wounded romantic of “El Préstamo” and “Tengo Un Amor” than as the polyamorous lech behind “Cuatro Babys” and “Felices Los 4.”
As such, it seems somewhat disingenuous for Maluma to trot out his latest full-length Papi Juancho as the work of an alter ego, when in context last year’s comparably chaste 11:11 was effectively an outlier in his catalog. Despite whatever he learned from that short-lived, if satisfying, dalliance with arena pop, Maluma’s surprise return to libertine reggaetón suits him far better. Devised amid a horny solitude in quarantine, and with help from his erstwhile go-to producers The RudeBoyz, the undulating rhythms of “Booty” and “Cielo A Un Diablo” renew his perreo bonafides. Nodding to his signature olympian penchant for foursomes, “Cuidau” sizzles with sybaritic decadence, as it promises untold pleasures both on land and in the air. Similarly, “Salida De Escape” luxuriates in the illicitness of an affair, providing a naughty daydream for those in his listenership sexually bored by their partners and spouses.
However, in revisiting this more prurient aspect of his discography — something that has previously gotten him in trouble on more than one occasion — Maluma threatens to undo some of the growth displayed on 11:11. With its unsettling Instagram stalking and correspondingly sexist self-delusion, the inadvertently telling single “Hawái” reveals an unattractive side to Papi Juancho. So too does “Madrid,” with his and guest Myke Towers’ shared failure to take the damn hint from a former lover.
Chalk it up to genre tropes, perhaps, given the last two decades of macho reggaetoneros assigning ill intent to the female figures they objectify and desire. Still, his intentional regression after taking a rather successful leap towards broader accessibility feels disappointing, especially once one starts to suspect Maluma might not be playing a character after all.