Empire Distribution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
EMPIRE Distribution
  • Hip-hop
  • Rap
  • Afrobeat
  • R&B
  • Dance
  • Reggaeton
  • Country
  • Pop
  • Latin Alternative
Founded2010 in San Francisco, CA
FounderGhazi Shami
HeadquartersSan Francisco,
Area served
Key people
Ghazi Shami (CEO)
Nima Etminan (COO)
Tina Davis (President)
Number of employees
200 (2024)
DivisionsEMPIRE Distribution
EMPIRE Publishing
EMPIRE (label)
  • EMPIRE Africa
  • EMPIRE Latino
  • EMPIRE Nashville

Empire Distribution, Records and Publishing Inc. (stylized as EMPIRE) is an independent American record label, distribution and publishing company founded in 2010 by Ghazi Shami. Based in San Francisco, EMPIRE has offices in New York, London, Lagos, and Johannesburg in addition to recording studios in San Francisco and New York.

Shami, a San Francisco native with a background in music and tech, founded Empire as a digital distribution company focused on hip-hop and rap. Developing proprietary software that allowed managers and artists to easily track airplay and sales, Empire paid monthly royalties to artists, many of whom had not previously earned digital revenue, and gained early support from the Bay Area's artist community.

In 2014, Shami, known as Ghazi, launched the Empire label. Empire Africa, Empire Latino, and Empire Nashville divisions were later established. Since its founding -- in partnership with artists and artist labels -- Empire has released music by artists including Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Fat Joe,Tyga, Asake, Fireboy DML, XXXTentacion, Philthy Rich Young Dolph, Key Glock, King Von, Tink, Yung Bleu, D Smoke, T-Pain, Snoop Dogg, DRAM, and Cardi B, among others. Empire Publishing was founded in 2020.


2010-2014: Founding, early success[edit]

Empire was founded in by Ghazi Shami. Raised in San Francisco, he grew up listening to Bay Area artists such as Too Short, Spice 1, RBL Posse, Souls of Mischief, Luniz, JT the Bigga Figga, and Rappin' 4-Tay. Equally interested in music and technology, in college he worked at the tech companies Sun Microsystems, Eloquent Technologies and Audio Highway; he later worked at Hyde Street Studios, where he engineered and mixed music by artists including Messy Marv, Planet Asia and Too Short.[1]

In 2006, he was hired at INgrooves Music Group, an independent distribution and marketing company. While he had written code and built out streaming media sites since he was a teenager, at INgrooves, he learned about the intricacies of digital distribution, artist contracts, and royalties. Helping to build the company's rap division, he signed DIY artists representative of the Bay Area sound and culture, often introducing them to online revenue streams.[2]

Ghazi founded Empire from his home in the Potrero neighborhood of San Francisco in 2010. In a 2019 interview, he said: "This company wouldn't exist if I wasn’t born and bred in the Bay; in SF and Silicon Valley. This company is as much a software company as it is a music company. It’d be a disservice to the roots, to the origin, to everything that I stand for, if this company wasn't firmly planted or rooted here."[3]

Initially focused on rap, Empire's backend technology bypassed the existing digital distribution system and delivered music directly to streaming and retail platforms quickly to capitalize on the viral momentum of the genre's traditional rapid-fire releases. Contracts were non-exclusive and proprietary software allowed managers and artists to easily track royalties, which were paid monthly.[4][5] The company's core practices, in addition to Ghazi's relationships, attracted artists, and as Empire gained traction, Ghazi hired Nima Etminan as his second-in-command.[3] Etminan later became the company's COO.[6]

2014-2020: Empire Records, Empire Latino, Empire Nashville[edit]

With its digital distribution platform successful, Empire established Empire Records. Among others, the label released Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu, which earned .Paak a Grammy nomination in the Best New Artist, category, as well as Fat Joe’s “All The Way Up” and DRAM’s “Broccoli.” Young Dolph turned down a $22 million major label deal to sign with Empire and remain independent. In an interview with Variety, Dolph said: "Empire is on deck with people who love to do this shit just as much as I do...whether you got money to deal with it or no money to deal with it, the best relationships are going to be the ones where you understand each other."[7]

In 2017, XXXTentacion's debut album, 17, was released on Empire. It charted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200. His sophomore album was released on Capitol. He returned to re-sign with Empire a month before his death; The New York Times reported that the deal was worth $10 million.[8] XXXTentacion's posthumous album, Skins, debuted at #1 on the Billboard album chart.[9][10]

In 2018, Tina Davis, previously an artist manager and a head of A&R at Def Jam, was named SVP of A&R,[11] and a partnership with L.A. Reid's Hitco was announced.[12] King Von's Empire-distributed song "Crazy Story" was a 3x platinum viral hit.[13] He subsequently signed with Empire, releasing the mixtape, Grandson, which became one of the label's most successful releases.[14] Empire also worked with Tyga in 2018; the track "Taste", was 9x platinum as of 2023.[15]

Empire began working with Latino artists including Tego Calderón and Luis Enrique in 2012, and in 2018 established Empire Latino.[16] In 2019, Empire Latino had its first hit with Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Jay Wheeler; as of 2023, his song La Curiosidad was 8x platinum.[17]

A country music division, Empire Nashville, was founded in 2019.[18]

2020 - present: Empire Publishing, Empire Africa, Blackground[edit]

In 2020, after developing propriety software specific to music publishing that provided transparency similar to Empire's royalty software, Empire established a publishing division. Initial signings included Illmind, Nebu Kiniza, Dr Zeus and Empire artists Young Dolph, Key Glock, Mozzy, Fireboy DML,Yung Bleu and RJMrLA.[19]

In partnership with Olamide and his label, YBNL Nation,[20] Empire Africa's first signing was Nigerian Afrobeats artist Fireboy DML.[6] His 2021 single "Peru", remixed by Ed Sheeran, was a global hit. With subsequent signings including Asake, Burna Boy, BNXN and Kizz Daniels, Empire Africa became a preeminent Afrobeats label; on Nigeria's year-end TurnTable Charts, Empire had the top three artists, the top two songs, and the top album. Empire releases held the #1 position on the Nigerian charts for 35 weeks over the course of the year.[6]

Empire began investing in the Detroit hip-hop scene not long after the company was founded. In a 2022 interview with Billboard, Ghazi said he felt a strong connection between San Francisco and Detroit. The label signed Babyface Ray in 2017, and by 2022 had signed 10 artists, including Peezy, Babytron, Payroll Giovanni, and Rio Da Yung OG.[21] Peezy’s "2 Million Up" went viral on TikTok and hit seven Billboard charts, including the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, Rap Airplay and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.[22]

In October 2022, Empire acquired the Bay area-founded dance label, Dirtybird.[23] In January 2023, a partnership with the Web3 investment platform, Nebula, was announced. It was also announced that Money Man, who was paid in Bitcoin when he signed with Empire in 2021,[24] would release his EP on the Nebula platform.[25]

In June 2023, Davis was named president of the company.[26]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2015 "Out of Many, One Music" (Shaggy) Best Reggae Album Nominated
2016 "Strictly Roots" (Morgan Heritage) Best Reggae Album Won
2017 "Malibu" (Anderson .Paak) Best New Artist Nominated
"Malibu" (Anderson .Paak) Best Urban Contemporary Album Nominated
"All The Way Up" (Fat Joe & Remy Ma) Best Rap Performance Nominated
"All The Way Up" (Fat Joe & Remy Ma) Best Rap Song Nominated
"Broccoli" (DRAM) Best Rap/Sung Performance Nominated
"Rose Petals EP" (J Boog) Best Reggae Album Nominated

Notable artists[edit]

Selected discography[edit]

Year Cat Title Artist(s) Details Certifications
2010 ERE Authenticity The Foreign Exchange Oct 12, 2010 #145 on the Billboard 200
#23 US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
2011 ERE Setbacks ScHoolboy Q Jan 11, 2011 #100 on the US Billboard 200
ERE Longterm Mentality Ab-Soul April 5, 2011 #32 on the US Top Heatseekers
#73 on the US Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums
ERE Section.80 Kendrick Lamar July 2, 2011 #113 on the US Billboard 200
#1 on the US Top Heatseekers Albums
ERE Charity Starts At Home Phonte Sep 27, 2011
ERE In None We Trust Crooked I Nov 17, 2011
ERE Gift Of Gab 2 Rocko Nov 24, 2011
2012 ERE Dirty Slums Slum Village Mar 27, 2012
ERE Stoner's EP Snoop Dogg April 17, 2012 #31 on the US Independent Albums
#33 on the US Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums
ERE Don't Be S.A.F.E. Trinidad James Sep 18, 2012 #103 on the US Billboard 200
#8 on the US Top Heatseekers Albums
ERE Baby Face Killa Freddie Gibbs Sep 25, 2012
2013 ERE Still Goin In (Reloaded) Rich Homie Quan Feb 8, 2013 Named tenth best mixtape of 2013 by Rolling Stone.
ERE The Year of the Underdogz Young Noble & Gage Gully May 7, 2013
ERE West Coast Gangsta Shit Daz Dillinger and WC June 19, 2013
ERE ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally) Freddie Gibbs June 20, 2013 #8 on US Top Heatseekers Albums[27]
#24 on US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
ERE Cold Turkey Starlito July 2, 2013
ERE108 Apex Predator Crooked I July 30, 2013 #33 on US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[28]
ERE110 3ChordFold Terrace Martin Aug 13, 2013 #43 on US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
#9 on US Top Heatseekers Albums
ERE Travis Garland Travis Garland Sep 10, 2013
ERE Gas Pedal EP Sage The Gemini Sep 10, 2013
ERE O.K.E. (Deluxe Edition) The Game Oct 8, 2013 #89 on the US Billboard 200
#19 on the US Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums
ERE Knock Madness Hopsin Nov 24, 2013 #1 on US Top Heatseekers Albums
#7 on US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
#6 on US Independent Albums
2014 ERE135 Tortoise and the Crow CD Grouch, Eligh Mar 04, 2014
ERE139 Phantom and the Ghost Styles P Apr 29, 2014 #74 on US Billboard 200
#14 on US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
#18 on US Independent Albums
ERE Barrel Brothers Skyzoo and Torae May 27, 2014
ERE141 Venice Anderson .Paak Oct 28, 2014
2015 ERE Strictly Roots Morgan Heritage June 8, 2015 Grammy Award Winning : Best Reggae Album
ERE141 Fuk Wat They Talkin Bout Tyga Aug 24, 2015
ERE141 Shadow of a Doubt Freddie Gibbs Nov 20, 2015 #76 on US Billboard 200
2016 ERE141 Malibu Anderson .Paak Jan 15, 2016 #79 on US Billboard 200
ERE141 King of Memphis Young Dolph Feb 19, 2016 #49 on US Billboard 200
2017 ERE310 Plata O Plomo Fat Joe and Remy Ma Feb 17, 2017 #44 on US Billboard 200
ERE344 Neva Left Snoop Dogg May 19, 2017 #54 on US Billboard 200
ERE For Your Girl Too Selfish May 23, 2017
ERE BitchImTheShit2 Tyga Jul 21, 2017
ERE 17 XXXTentacion Aug 25, 2017 #2 on US Billboard 200
2018 ERE381 Kyoto Tyga Feb 16, 2018
ERE453 Tru LP Lloyd Aug 31, 2018
ERE Dancing Shadows Mario Oct 5, 2018
ERE Skins XXXTentacion Dec 7, 2018 #1 on US Billboard 200
2019 ERE Walk with Me Rotimi May 24, 2019
ERE Legendary Tyga Jun 7, 2019 #17 on US Billboard 200
ERE In My Defense Iggy Azalea Jul 19, 2019 #50 on US Billboard 200
ERE524 I Wanna Thank Me Snoop Dogg Aug 16, 2019 #76 on US Billboard 200
ERE Wicked Lips Iggy Azalea Dec 2, 2019
ERE537 Bad Vibes Forever XXXTentacion Dec 6, 2019 #5 on US Billboard 200

Notable singles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ruskin, Zack (February 6, 2019). "How Empire founder Ghazi Shami built San Francisco a new musical kingdom". Datebook | San Francisco Arts & Entertainment Guide. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  2. ^ Hunte, Justin (2016-01-14). "EMPIRE: The Music Industry's Quiet Giant". HipHopDX. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  3. ^ a b "How EMPIRE Became A Music Industry Giant In An Unlikely City | GRAMMY.com". grammy.com. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  4. ^ Hissong, Samantha (2020-10-29). "Empire's Founder Ghazi Shami -- Future 25". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  5. ^ Rys, Dan (2016-10-20). "Hip-Hop's Other EMPIRE: How Indie Distributor Is Quietly Owning the Rap Game". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  6. ^ a b c Rys, Dan (2023-05-12). "From the Bay Area to Africa, How EMPIRE Became A Global Force". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  7. ^ Ju, Shirley (2019-10-21). "How Rappers Young Dolph and Key Glock Turned Street Smarts Into Business Savvy". Variety. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  8. ^ Sisario, Ben; Coscarelli, Joe (2018-07-08). "XXXTentacion Signed $10 Million Album Deal Before His Death". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  9. ^ Caulfield, Keith (2018-12-17). "XXXTentacion's 'Skins' Album Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard 200 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  10. ^ "Gold & Platinum certifications, Tyga". RIAA. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  11. ^ "Needle on the Record". East Bay Express | Oakland, Berkeley & Alameda. 2023-10-31. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  12. ^ Karp, Hannah (2018-03-26). "L.A. Reid's Hitco Ramps Up With 25 Hires and Handful Of New Acts". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  13. ^ ""Crazy Story" certifications". RIAA. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  14. ^ Gage, Dewayne (2022-03-04). "King Von Was One of Rap's Most Promising Stars. His Friends Want to Make Sure He Isn't Forgotten". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  15. ^ "Tyga, Gold & Platinum certifications, "Taste"". RIAA. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  16. ^ Suarez, Gary (2019-01-30). "After A Breakthrough Year, What's Next For Música Urbana?". VIBE.com. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  17. ^ ""La Curiosidad" Gold & Platinum certification". RIAA. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  18. ^ Cantrell, L. B. (2021-03-01). "EMPIRE Nashville's Eric Hurt And Heather Vassar Talk Early Success [Interview]". MusicRow.com. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  19. ^ Aswad, Jem (2020-09-10). "Empire Launches Publishing Division". Variety. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  20. ^ Rys, Dan (2022-03-02). "EMPIRE's Ghazi On Expansion Into Africa, Nashville and Crypto: 'We're The King Of The Multisector'". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  21. ^ Rouhani, Neena (2022-10-12). "The Promise & Perseverance of Detroit Rap's Rising Stars". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  22. ^ Rouhani, Neena (2023-05-01). "How Peezy Went 'Against the Grain' & Achieved a Top 10 Rap Hit". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  23. ^ Bain, Katie (2022-10-20). "Claude VonStroke's Dirtybird Label Acquired By EMPIRE". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  24. ^ "Empire pays rapper Money Man's million-dollar advance in Bitcoin". www.musicweek.com. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  25. ^ "EMPIRE partners with Web3 music investment platform Nebula". Music Business Worldwide. 2023-01-23. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  26. ^ "Tina Davis promoted to President at EMPIRE". Music Business Worldwide. 2023-06-27. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  27. ^ "Heatseekers Albums : Jul 06, 2013 | Billboard Chart Archive". Billboard. 2013-07-06. Archived from the original on 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2013-08-27.
  28. ^ "Crooked I – Chart history". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2018-12-17. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
  29. ^ Cantor, Paul (2015-10-30). "Singer-Rapper D.R.A.M. Explains Why He Feels Drake 'Jacked' His Record". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  30. ^ Weiner, Natalie (2015-05-21). "Jermaine Dupri & Bow Wow Are Just Wondering 'WYA (Where You At?)': Exclusive Premiere". Billboard. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  31. ^ "Nef the Pharaoh: "Big Tymin'"". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  32. ^ "Popcaan Is Gloriously Inebriated On "Never Sober"". The FADER. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  33. ^ Legaspi, Althea (2019-02-22). "Hear Adam Lambert's Achingly Yearning New Song 'Feel Something'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  34. ^ Black, Adrienne. "Free Nationals Drop Vivid "Beauty & Essex" Video f/ Daniel Caesar & Unknown Mortal Orchestra". Complex. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  35. ^ "Busta Rhymes And Anderson .Paak's 'Yuuuu' Portrays Them As Enemies". UPROXX. 2020-09-18. Retrieved 2024-01-26.

External links[edit]