Rapper Stormzy reportedly threatened to quit his record label after a picture circulated of the label’s president wore ‘blackface’ to a staff fancy dress party.
Atlantic Records UK president Ben Cook, who is also credited with launching the Ed Sheeran’s career, said the costume idea had been a ‘terrible mistake’.
Mr Cook simply admitted his ‘appearance was offensive’ after he turned up as a member of Run-DMC for the party, but he did not elaborate further.
However, a source in the music industry told the Daily Mail that Mr Cook had worn blackface at the event.
Rapper Stormzy is said to have told senior figures at Warner Music, the parent company of Atlantic, that he would quit if Mr Cook was not fired.
‘Offensive mistake’: Ben Cook, centre, with Ed Sheeran, right, rapper Cardi B, left, and A&R worker Alec Boateng, far left
Rapper Stormzy reportedly threatened to quit the record label over the row
A source told The Sun Stormzy was ‘furious’ Mr Cook was initially allowed to stay over the controversy.
‘He stepped in and made it clear he would not be prepared to keep working with them if Ben stayed, and also that he might go public with the details of why,’ the source said.
‘He absolutely believes this was the right thing to do.’
All three members of Run-DMC were black and Mr Cook is white. The party he had attended took place seven years ago but the picture only came to light last year when a picture of the president appeared on Facebook. The photo was then swiftly deleted, the source claimed.
They added that the label president had since been shunned by some music industry colleagues, including rapper Stormzy who banned him from standing near the stage during his Glastonbury performance.
Mr Cook was at Atlantic for 12 years, first working at the label’s sister company Asylum Records, where he discovered Sheeran and, along with colleague Ed Howard, gave him his first record deal. Mr Cook became Atlantic’s UK president in 2014.
Over the years he has also worked closely with music stars including Clean Bandit, Rudimental and Anne-Marie.
Run-DMC were Jammaster Jay (Jason Mizell), Run (Joseph Simons) and DMC (Darryl McDaniels)
Mr Cook also helped to bring Stormzy to the label last year as part of a joint venture with the rapper’s own Merky Records outfit. In a statement Cook said he was previously reprimanded by the label for dressing as a member of the American hip-hop group, but that new allegations about his appearance prompted his departure.
‘It is with great sadness that today I announce I am stepping down as president of Atlantic Records UK’, he said.
‘Seven years ago, at a birthday party where guests were asked to come dressed as their favourite musical icon, I came as a member of Run-DMC. Late last year rumours began to circulate about my appearance at that event, many of which are simply untrue.
‘While my intention was to honour a musical hero, I recognise my appearance was offensive and I made a terrible mistake.’
Mr Cook was at Atlantic for 12 years, first working at the label’s sister company Asylum Records, where he discovered Ed Sheeran
Mr Cook went on to explain that he ‘readily agreed’ to disciplinary actions from Atlantic Records, but that allegations about the party had continued. ‘I am devastated that this mistake has caused upset and has called into question my commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion, values which I have championed throughout my career’, he said.
‘I unreservedly apologise to anyone who has been hurt.’
A statement from Warner Music, the parent company of Atlantic, said: ‘Ben Cook is leaving Atlantic UK and this will be his last week in the office.’
The controversy comes weeks after Canadian premier Justin Trudeau was heavily criticised for wearing black face paint at several parties as a younger man.
Mr Cook was defended by grime MC Wiley, who worked with him on the 2008 hit Wearing My Rolex and tweeted: ‘Ben Cook is not racist. Give that man back his job.’