Z2 and Audio Up Unite for Graphic Novel and Soundtrack ‘Neon Empire’

Audio Up and Z2 have joined forces to release Neon Empire, a graphic novel about a fictional country star named Kountry Boi. The podcast network and merchandise publisher announced that they will also release a corresponding soundtrack.

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The graphic novel and original collection were penned and performed by some of country music’s biggest stars. The narrative will follow the genre-bending artist as he brings hip-hop to the forefront of Music City. 

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Audio Up founder, Jared Gutstadt was the mastermind behind the concept, as he has immersed himself in the “hick-hop” and country music community within the last few years. Gutstadt pulled from real-life experience to turn his informative idea into a reality.

He played a role in Jelly Roll’s transition from hip-hop to the country music scene. Jelly Roll – born Jason Bradley DeFord —is a genre-transcending artist with No. 1s on both country and rock radio. He created the blueprint for the artist—producing two back-to-back acoustic mix tapes called Whiskey Session 1 and 2.  

During Jelly Roll’s rise to fame, Gutstadt witnessed the underground “beats-and-rhymes” community slowly become respected in mainstream media. His unique perspective is placed on full display in Neon Empire through the lens of the fictional protagonist. 

“Country music is changing, and the new outlaws are defining this town,” explained Gutstadt. “Until now, it was unheard of to have country acts with tattoos on their face who refused to conform to the strict guidelines and cookie-cutter approach of Music Row.

“This new world has yet to be explored in fiction, and Neon Empire is an expose of this creative, hyperkinetic, and often violent world,” he adds. “This is fiction rooted in a reality that I’ve been dying to reveal. Z2 is the perfect conduit and partner to bring this to life.”

According to a press release, Kountry Boi is a fast-rising rapper who sells contraband and mixtapes in a Walmart parking lot across the South. He also works alongside kingpin Rally Mally. Similar to Jelly Roll, Boi became a beloved musician that garnered a devoted fanbase. When Boi’s dark past resurfaces, it threatens his music career. The project conveys a redemption story and explores the music industry’s dark side. 

The Neon Empire graphic novel will go on pre-sale in late 2023. The Neon Empire podcast will include eight episodes and will be available across streaming platforms. 

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

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