Lloyiso grew up in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape with his older sister blasting Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks — and would always come running to sing along. As a teenager, he entered the 2015 season 11 of the reality show Idols, making it to the top eight before he was eliminated. But his renditions of songs by the likes of Sam Smith made him enough of a fan favorite that, when he started posting covers after the show, he quickly found viral fame.

Through lockdown, his soothing voice became a comfort to his 1.5 million TikTok followers. Now, Lloyiso’s fanbase will grow even more thanks to his September record deal with Universal Music Group South Africa and Republic Records in the U.S. The deal makes him the first South African to sign to Republic. 

“It’s so surreal for me, I think it still hasn’t quite sunk in,” says the 22-year-old R&B singer born Loyiso Giyani. “I feel like all my life I’ve loved music and loved singing, but I never really understood how big it could be. I’m from a small town in the Eastern Cape, in the rural part, and now I’m at a point in my life where I’m in the big leagues…being signed to one of the most successful record labels in the world — and we’re talking about the world, not South Africa.” 

Before inking his deal with Universal Music Group South Africa and Republic Records, Lloyiso had been under the arm of local independent label, Ambitiouz Entertainment, which signed him after its founder Kgosi Mahumapelo saw Lloyiso’s videos online. That deal became the bridge to his bigger dreams. 

“I can try and be humble about it, and say, ‘No, I didn’t expect it,’ but I’ve always seen myself on the global stage,” says Lloyiso. “Even when I’m in my room I play those visions in my head where I’m at Coachella and the spotlight is on me. That’s the vision I have, and it’s getting there.”

Under his new label deal, UMG South Africa and Republic will work in tandem on Lloyiso’s music locally and globally. He’s already released his major label debut “Seasons,” a slow-burning ballad, and is working on the next release. 

All the while, he’ll continue to push South African R&B — a growing genre, though not nearly as popular abroad as amapiano or qgom — to new heights. “You know when you’re underwater and you’re a kid and you’re playing a game of who can hold their breath for longer?” asks Lloyiso. “When you come out and you gasp for air it’s the most amazing feeling ever. When I sing, I feel like I’m letting out everything, all the emotions. I feel like that’s my way of breathing.”