Facing claims of cultural appropriation and insensitivity over a controversial mural of 1990s rap icons, a forthcoming fried chicken restaurant in Shaw has delayed its opening and pledged to remove the offending wall art.
Roy Boys, which inhabits the former Tasty Burger space in the Atlantic Plumbing development, came under fire for two murals: one that imitated a VIBE magazine cover of Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Suge Knight but slapped chicken beaks over their mouths, and another of the Notorious B.I.G. with a full, feathered bird head.
Rahman “Rock” Harper, a Virginia-based chef who competed on Hell’s Kitchen, summarized the problematic imagery in his podcast, calling out the restaurant for dehumanizing black men and perpetuating a long history of negative associations between fried chicken and black culture.
“We’ve got to talk about cultural appropriation because it seems like the gentrifiers just don’t get it,” Harper says on his show, the Chef Rock Xperiment.
Roy Boys co-owner Scott Parker, who has a stake in several millennial-friendly bars in Arlington, tells Eater that one painting has already been changed, and another will be altered before the restaurant opens on Friday, February 15. Roy Boys was originally expected to open sometime this week. Parker and the artist, Christopher Lynch, are white. Another co-owner, Marlon Marshall, is black.
“We’re deeply sorry for the fact that these paintings hurt anyone,” Parker says in an email.
Today Marshall posted a link to Facebook of a Munchies article on about the murals with the following comment: “Just to be clear I’ve removed 1 of the 2 murals, the other will be removed this weekend. I’ve also apologized several times for offending anyone. Let’s move forward.”
In an Eater post that previewed the murals last week, Marshall says the wall art “fit the neighborhood,” a reference to the longstanding 9:30 Club music venue nearby.
In a follow-up story by WUSA9, the TV news team spoke with people on the street who said they though the murals should get artistic leeway. A musician who described himself as “an elder of the U Street scene,” told the news station the murals offended him.
The artist, Lynch, told DCist he was inspired by Egyptian mythology that featured animal heads on people.
“If I were being oversensitive, this wouldn’t be a story,” Harper tells Eater, going on to say that fried chicken and watermelon are part of “Coon imagery” that’s “strategically used against black folks and has been for over 100 years as a means to degrade and dehumanize.”
Big and Pac as chicken heads? Works for royboysdc. scottparker mjmgrand lynch_got_lost drankmills Chuck Brown and Marion Barry next? Go trample on someone else’s culture, this ain’t it… https://t.co/e64T7jxrl0— Rock Harper (@Rock_Harper) February 5, 2019
In his podcast, Harper is baffled by the idea that a fried chicken restaurant mere blocks away from Howard University, a historically black institution, would depict black men as “the animal that is being slaughtered and deep fried.” Harper is also incredulous that Notorious B.I.G. would be depicted as a “chicken head,” a sexually demeaning term for women in rap culture.
Harper does tell Eater that he doesn’t believe Roy Boys should be “canceled” or boycotted. He wishes the business well as long it works to honor the cultural influences from which it’s borrowing. The departure of black businesses and people from the fast-growing neighborhood only heighten the sensitivity.
“It speaks to people coming in and not seeing the people that have been there or the people that were there,” Harper says. “It’s just, ‘See me. Value me. Show me you value me.”
- With Chicken-Themed Rap Art, Shaw Late-Night Joint Is Almost Ready to Fry [EDC]
- New DC restaurant featured art depicting black rap artists as chickens [WUSA9]
- New Shaw Restaurant May Delay Opening To Replace Murals Depicting Famous Rappers As Chickens [DCist]