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SF-Based Hip-Hop Distributor Empire Inks Deal with Universal Music

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The EMPIRE logo. (Courtesy of EMPIRE)

EMPIRE, the San Francisco-based independent record distributor that’s worked with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, has signed a deal with major label Universal Music Group (UMG), according to an announcement made Wednesday.

The multi-year deal has EMPIRE providing “strategic distribution services to UMG’s labels and artists,” according to the UMG press release. The two companies plan to work together provide select UMG artists with EMPIRE’s distinct brand of promotion and delivery.

“The unique blend of size and strength (Universal Music Group) combined with speed and ingenuity (EMPIRE) will be a force in the industry,” EMPIRE CEO Ghazi Shami told HipHopDX.

A San Francisco University graduate, Shami founded EMPIRE in 2010 after working at INgrooves Music Group for four years and learning the business side of the music industry. Within two years, EMPIRE released recordings from Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Trinidad James, all of which charted on the Billboard US 200.

Locally, EMPIRE has supported the careers of artists like Philthy Rich, Berner, Rayana Jay, ALLBLACK and Rexx Life Raj, and Bay Area labels like Text Me Records. Last year, the company came under fire for working with XXXtentacion, a rapper charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation, whose album 17 nonetheless charted at No. 1.


In a 2016 profile on HipHopDX, Shami credits EMPIRE’s success to its digital distribution and royalty system, as well as their use of non-exclusive deals.

“Ghazi always said ‘If you take someone into your home and tie them to the couch and say you have to sit here, he’s gonna wanna get up. But if you welcome him and say have a seat, stay as long as you want and do right by him, chances are he’s not going to want to leave,'” Nima Etminan, EMPIRE’s vice president of operations, told HipHopDX.

Earlier this month, EMPIRE announced it had expanded its staff. Among the recent hires was EMPIRE’s new vice president of A&R, Tina Davis, who spent a decade Def Jam records and is Chris Brown’s former manager.

Variety also reports that EMPIRE signed a deal with Hitco Entertainment, the new record label founded by ex-Epic Records head L.A. Reid. The first release EMPIRE will help Hitco distribute is the new album from Big Boi of Outkast.

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