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NEAR TRUTHS: OVERCOOKED

The recent departure of Ben Cook from the top job at Atlantic U.K. has spurred much chatter on both sides of the pond. Max Lousada, who was already said to be searching for a new U.K. chief to succeed himself as he carries on in his global role, must now also put the search for a new head of Atlantic U.K., the label group’s crown jewel, at the top of his list.

The reason for Cook’s abrupt exit, it appears, was the existence of an old photo of him in blackface—at a costume party, ostensibly attired as a member of Run-DMC—that first surfaced in 2012. That photo appeared online and was quickly deleted; an internal disciplinary process ensued. No known copy of the pic exists, according to British press reports. That might have been the end of it, but these same reports claimed that pressure had more recently been applied on the subject by Stormzy and perhaps other artists.

WMG flatly denied Stormzy’s role in Cook’s ankling, and it’s said by some insiders that he denied having made a fuss about the matter (no published evidence has yet been found of his supposed objection to—or support of—Cook). That said, he is known to be outspoken and influential in British culture.

In any case, the noise was sufficiently loud, after seven years, to suggest that someone was pushing for Cook’s dismissal —and/or a public airing and apology from him regarding the incident. The exec, hitherto one of the most effective in Blighty, is indisputably a real music man and has signed and cultivated several huge stars, including Ed Sheeran and such U.K. giants as Clean Bandit, Anne-Marie and Jess Glynne. That he exercised astoundingly poor judgment in selecting his party costume goes without saying. Some insiders claim that Cook was urged by his team to do a public mea culpa and declined to do so. He did apologize in his resignation letter, noting that while his intention was to “honor a musical hero, I recognize my appearance was offensive and I made a terrible mistake.” He also pointed to rumors, “many of which are simply untrue,” that had dogged him and Atlantic and ultimately led to his departure. It seems more than a little bizarre that something couldn’t be worked out between Cook and the powers that be, and this has led to a great deal of conjecture about what else could be at the heart of the matter that might’ve prompted Cook to exit. If artists didn’t object, and there wasn’t any more to the story, why did he leave?

Rumors that Cook ankled because the situation was impairing the company’s relationship with some of the artist community are unsubstantiated, as are rumblings that the scandal had been weaponized by the competition. It is said that stepping down under fire is not out of character for an exec who’s earned a reputation for being prideful. Talented as he is, what will he do next?

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