EMPIRE Made Its Name in Hip-Hop, Now It’s Looking to Country

The San Francisco-based label, distributor and publishing company has opened a Nashville outpost and hired Eric Hurt as VP of A&R.

Eric Hurt

EMPIRE, the San Francisco-based indie that’s home to current albums by Snoop Dogg, Iggy Azalea, Robin Thicke and Young Dolph, has launched a Nashville outpost with plans to release music by a slate of country artists.

While EMPIRE has made its name in hip-hop, counting Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, DRAM and Anderson. Paak among artists it has supported in various capacities, the recent successes of Lil Nas X and Blanco Brown — of “Old Town Road” (a record-breaker that held 17 weeks at No. 1) and “The Git Up” fame, respectively — has opened up country music to genre-bending music acts and people of color.

EMPIRE Nashville’s first hire is Eric Hurt, who holds the position of Vice President of A&R and is tasked with signing and developing new talent in Nashville. Country artist Willie Jones arrives along with Hurt. A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, Jones competed on “The X Factor” in 2012, making it to live episodes of the U.S. version of the hit show. Hurt had previously signed Jones to Black River Publishing, where he worked beginning in June 2017 and oversaw a catalog that boasted multiple hits.

Hurt reports directly to EMPIRE CEO and founder Ghazi Shami, who launched the label, distribution company and publishing concern in 2010. Among the company’s successes are the tracks “Taste” by Tyga featuring Offset, “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. featuring Lil Yachty and XXXTentacion albums “17” and “Skins.”

Said Shami in making the announcement: “EMPIRE is built on culture and authenticity. As we expand into country music, we believe Eric fits our company ethos and is an integral part of Nashville’s vibrant music industry. We look forward to empowering country music singers and songwriters for years to come.”

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the team at EMPIRE,” added Hurt. “Ghazi’s forward-thinking approach to launching and supporting artists will be a great addition to the Nashville market. As we continue building Willie Jones’ career we’ll also grow and develop our roster in country with a diverse group of talent.”

Country radio has yet to embrace crossover hits like “Old Town Road,” which barely registers a blip on country airplay — 1,794 total plays so far in 2019, according to Mediabase.