A new DC restaurant has come under serious scrutiny before even opening its doors, after photos of its controversial decour have been made available to the public. Fried chicken specialists and new kids on the block “Roy Boys” were all set to launch, when a series of complaints were levied against a number of paintings, featuring famous rappers as chickens. The news has sparked a series of debates among communities across the country.
A collaboration between Arlington, Virginia bar owner Scott Parker and managing partner Marlon Marshall, Roy Boys was originally intended to be the latest, hippest late-night food and drink spot on the DC food scene. Oysters, cocktails and, of course, fried chicken are all available until 5AM. Highlights include fried chicken sandwiches and super sweet ice cream tacos. The interior is all ultra-cool neon and slate grey steel.
Beyond the food however, there is one influence that the founders clearly wanted to make as explicit as possible - the link between the restaurant and rap. The soundtrack is almost exclusively hip-hop. The Notorious B.I.G’s “Ready to Die” album cover carpets the bathroom walls. However, in a move that proved to be the catalyst for the latest debate between restaurateurs and critics of cultural appropriation, the dining room also featured portraits of artists such as Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Tupac Shakur with added chicken beaks. It’s this move that has placed Roy Boys in the eye of a storm.
As soon as the pictures were published in an Eater article at the end of January, the backlash from the community began. Fried chicken has often been used as a dog whistle to denigrate the black community - a point critics were quick to put across. local chef Rachman “Rock” Harper, for instance, told WUSA9 that, “There is a deep history of making our people, especially connected to chicken, look like animals because it’s dehumanizing and it’s degrading.” The radio station subsequently pointed out that both Scott Parker and artist Christopher Lynch - who was responsible for the paintings - are white.
The criticism hasn’t stopped there. Local musician and rapper Larry “Priest da Nomad” Ware feels that the issue is as much about gentrification as it is about appropriation. Speaking to Munchies, Ware revealed, “There’s a backdrop of gentrification already that’s really frustrating to people who are natives in the art and the culture of the community. This spot comes up with this type of imagery, and the optics is really insensitive.”
Despite the response, Roy Boys - and particularly managing partner Marlon Marshall - feel that there is an important point not being addressed in the current discussion. Though debate has focused primarily on collaboration between a white business owner and white artist, Marshall himself - who owns a 30% share in the business and manages day to day activities at the restaurant - is black. As he puts it, “It puts the concept through a different lens if you think it’s just a white guy with a fried chicken restaurant in a historically Black city like Washington DC. I want people to look at the murals through the lens of ‘it’s a young, 28-year old Black guy who runs the restaurant, in addition to his white business partner.’”
For now, the offending images have been removed while Roy Boys look for suitable replacements. It’s clear that, for the time being, both sides of the debate remain suspicious of each other. As Marshall told Munchies, “There's no right or wrong answer, in my opinion.” Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen.