This is not going to go the direction you think it might. I just want that to be clear upfront. If you’re looking for the piece that condemns such an experience or food item, keep on walkin’ I ain’t talkin’ to you any more. Word to CeCe Peniston.
But first, some background.
I was perusing my favorite news source—Facebook—when I came across a restaurant review on Butter.ATL written by a friend of mine for a new restaurant on the west side of Atlanta called The Bando. Now, I’m a hood vernacular connoisseur so I immediately had some idea of the cultural aesthetic (and statement) this particular restaurant was making (as did the reviewer, Mike Jordan). And I could also telegraph what would make this restaurant, or at least it’s aesthetic, potentially controversial. For the record, I haven’t been there nor am I aware of any controversy, so I’m going to speak more about the general ethos of using trap/hood culture for commercial purposes...outside of hip-hop.
Also, one point of note: this restaurant is in my neighborhood in Atlanta. I live in Washington, D.C. now, but the location of this spot, Martin Luther King Dr., SW, at Lynhurst Drive, SW, is literally my old stomping grounds. My house (well, my old family house) was right at the corner of MLK and Peyton Place, SW, which is half a mile from the plaza where the restaurant is; we used to walk there as kids on lazy summer afternoons. The plaza is now, and has always been, your standard-issue plaza in a depressed community: grocery store and a rotating assortment of clothing, check cashing joints, nail shops, etc. Almost directly next door is an auto parts spot and a mortuary service well known to my family, the Alfonso Dawson Mortuary, Inc.
Back to our regularly scheduled program: The Bando. I actually like this idea of a trap-aesthetic restaurant. Hell, the only thing that makes this different from half the neighborhood carry-outs is 1) it’s Black-owned (more on that later); and 2) this is intentionally ‘hood as opposed to just left to disrepair and a blatant disrespect for the clientele that so many of these spots, regardless of ownership, exhibit.
Is there a fetishization of trap culture? Absolutely. Trap everything is a “thing” now. Folks lined up to take pictures at the “trap house” 2 Chainz used on the cover for his Pretty Girls Like Trap Music album. I went to a Haunted Pink Trap House outside of Atlanta a few years ago. The Trap Museum in Atlanta? Fam, that is a thing thing. That experience was fascinating, not just because of how entertaining but also ridiculous it is at the same time, but for the odd economic stratification that seemed to exist. When my wife and I went, there was a line literally wrapped around the door and all through the parking lot to get in. Everybody bought tickets in advance online for $20. But we also noticed there was a second line for entrance, like at the club, where folks walked up paid a little extra to get in and boom, you walked in immediately. I inquired about the extra money to get in and it was only $10 more per person (at that time). I thought they were hittin’ folks for like $100, like at a club. Nope, for $10 more, you could step out of the sweltering Atlanta heat right into trap glory. And you know what, 95 PERCENT of the folks in line were like naw, we’ll just wait. I found that curious. I don’t know what that says about society, but I found it curious.
Point is, trap culture is popular. And profitable. And gimmicky. Why not have a restaurant that is basically the trap museum that sells chicken and because one of the owners is from Detroit, Coney Island dogs? So when I saw the review, read it and looked into the restaurant and the ‘crack wings,’ I was like, “hmm, this makes sense. I’d definitely be interested in checking it out and eating some ‘crack wings.’”
Can’t lie though, as soon as I said to myself “it makes sense,” I also came to the conclusion that I entirely understand why some folks would HATE something along these lines. For one, nobody really aspires to live in the trap. In fact, most folks spend their lives trying to escape it. Walking into a restaurant that turns a life most folks don’t want to live into a voyeuristic exhibit could be considered not in good taste. Putting “crack”—which is a blend of seasoned powders on wings—could be considered even more egregious because wow, crack was an era that decimated communities. Why would anybody want to sprinkle pretend crack on anything?
In hip-hop, I kind of get it. Even The Trap Museum is a museum, though that’s still introducing people who literally have no idea what’s happening into a world they more or less just gawk and laugh at, when there are real people behind that imagery losing battles to the streets, etc. It’s a delicate balance. And to be fair, according to the review, it’s not all just trapped out. There’s lots of stuff that you would expect to find in a hip-hop-centric and catering, wing spot. Funny enough, people pay good money all over to go to “experience” oriented restaurants, this seems like it’s basically that.
The owners, Terrence Bradshaw and Richard Burk, III, are also intending to use proceeds to give back to the community, which is cool. In many ways, this is a very good business idea. The Trap Museum is an undeniable success. The whole place is basically waiting to be Instagrammed—I should know, my wife and I Instagrammed the shit out of it. A restaurant in the Black community that is owned by Black people that is basically an Instagram dream waiting to happen is smart business, even if there are “crack wings” on the menu. But be real, if you go you almost HAVE to get the “crack wings.”
I’m looking forward to checking this place out the next time I go back to Atlanta. Again, it’s in my neighborhood so it won’t even be out of the way for me. And I’m sure I will like the food—it’s real hard to mess up wings, tenders and hot dogs—and after going to the Trap Museum and Trap Haunted House, which was some serious sensory overload, I’m almost afraid that I’d be disappointed...and I’m only half joking. All I do know is that if you’re gonna do something like “crack wings,” they better be goodAF, otherwise you’re damn near a colonizer.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)