South African Rapper Willy Cardiac Is a Global Star in the Making

Willy Cardiac may have just turned 19, but the rapper has been a breakout talent in South Africa for several years. And now the Pretoria-based teen has leveled up with his new single “Fan of Me,” featuring a guest turn from Grammy-winning R&B singer-songwriter Eric Bellinger (who has co-penned tracks for Usher and Justin Bieber). The AutoTune-glossed earworm came to him following a quick trip to California.

“I recorded the song right after I got back from LA,” he told For the Record, beaming. “I thought it was fire and sent it to my manager the next morning. My manager sent the song to Eric’s team and he sent his verse back in less than 24 hours. Insane, right?”

This track isn’t the only thing Willy has going on right now. He was recently chosen to represent South Africa for Spotify’s global emerging artist program, RADAR. The program features artists from over 50 markets worldwide and helps performers at all stages of their careers strengthen their connection to audiences via Spotify’s social channels, RADAR playlists curated by Spotify’s editors, and bespoke marketing initiatives.

“It definitely feels great to be a part of it,” says Willy. “Spotify is helping me get my music out to a wider crowd and get a bigger fan base. I’m honored.”

It’s no surprise Willy’s talent has led him to RADAR. Last year, he had a career-making run of singles. Take “Sippy Dippy,” which applies relentless come-ons and put-downs over darkly coiled production. It confirms Willy’s knack for smooth, mantra-like refrains that contrast perfectly with the spiky urgency of his verses. “Blicky” on the other hand is more overtly grime in tone, while “No Percs” showcases a softer vocal delivery over clean, melodic electronics and low-slung bass swells.

After releasing six singles in little more than a year’s time, it’s no surprise that Willy is now focused on his debut album. “I’m working on new songs and tapping into a lot of genres, trying to show people the more versatile side of me,” he says. “It’s gonna be crazy when people hear this new music. They’re not gonna believe it.”

Willy has been writing music since age 10 and started recording himself rapping on his phone a few years after that. He traces his lifelong passion for hip-hop back to discovering Lil Wayne as a child. “He caught my attention the first time I saw him on a music video,” recalls Willy. “I knew right there that I wanted to be just like him.”

Despite the small rap scene in Pretoria, a sprawling mountainside city with a population under 3 million, Willy says he’s always felt like he was speaking to people through his music. “You have to start somewhere, right?” he says. “I officially recorded my first song when I was 16. I just blew up from there. I never stopped from then on.”

By early 2020 Willy was performing live at South African rap icon Riky Rick’s stacked Cotton Fest in Johannesburg and was included on several media platforms’ lists of MCs to look out for in the coming year.

Now, with the help of RADAR, Willy’s music will reach an ever-greater audience. “My mission has always been to blow up globally, [so] it’s great to see that things are finally falling into place,” says Willy. “I can’t wait for what the future holds.”

Check out some of Willy’s top hits.