More questions than answers surround the abrupt departure of Atlantic Records UK president Ben Cook.
The abrupt resignation of Atlantic Records UK president Ben Cook is still causing ripples, with industry onlookers wondering exactly what prompted the exit. Of course, the ‘what’ is a damning photo of Cook in a Run D.M.C. costume with allegedly blackface make-up applied. But why is Cook suddenly departing now, seven years after the transgression?
Just 24 hours after the resignation, a British tabloid claimed that Atlantic artist Stormzy demanded Cook’s resignation, though Atlantic was quick to deny that rumor. Parent company Warner Music Group called the story “simply not sure,” while flatly noting that “no artists were involved in our decision-making.”
Given that Cook played a hand in developing Stormzy into a worldwide success, the tabloid claim seems a bit speculative. But if it wasn’t Stormzy, who — or what — finally forced Cook out?
Of course, Cook’s resignation was undoubtedly the result of pressure from Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group higher-ups, who likely gave Cook little choice in the matter. Effectively, Cook was fired — the rest are just details.
Inside the London-based Atlantic and corporate WMG, intense debate seemed to surround the now-deleted Facebook photo showing Cook in blackface at a 2012 company party. Exactly when the picture popped up is unclear, though Cook himself indicated that the image surfaced more than a year ago. That stirred considerable internal reaction, with Cook subjected to ‘disciplinary actions’ among other problems.
According to one source, considerable internal anxiety surrounded the photo itself (which we haven’t seen). As anyone existing online undoubtedly knows by now, a ‘deleted’ photo is anything but, and multiple copies of Cook in costume likely still exist. That raises the possibility of the photo getting recirculated, published, or worse, someone actively using the photo to push Cook out.
One source, who emphatically demanded confidentiality, equated the blackface photo to a racist tweet or groping allegation. With “that level of dirt, you’re on borrowed time,” the source noted, especially if someone was actively trying to get Cook pushed. Ugly stuff, and tragically for Cook, the brand of ‘racist’ has been permanently applied.
The blackface makeup was allegedly part of a Run D.M.C. costume, with Cook and other attendees dressing as their musical heroes. Cook was named president of Atlantic Records UK in 2014.
More as this develops.