Philadelphia’s Encrypted Script
Philadelphia's Encrypted Script: The ups and downs of graffiti’s most exotic typography. Exploring the origins and evolution of the "wicked", how they are done and why you will never be able to do one.
Maximum respect to Infamous Magazine, who originally ran this insightful piece on the Philly hand.
First and foremost, if you are reading this article, you fall into one of two categories. Either you grew up seeing the handstyle known as “wicked,” or you didn’t. Trying to please both audiences presents a unique challenge. For those who know and love the wicked as part of their own cultural history, you begin to read an article like this with a mix a skepticism and dread; who are they going to forget, who’s going to get left out, what “definition” of the handstyle will be presented, and how wrong or off will it be? On the other hand, the rest of the people who are curious to know – or know more – about this craft, they come to the table with no expectations, but what is written will become one of the few points of reference about the topic. Accordingly, there is a lot of responsibility in writing about wickeds. In short, this type of graffiti writing is a local craft, handed down from old head to young bol, older brother to younger brother, even father to son, and in that sense it as much an oral tradition as it is an actual craft. With the methodology also comes the oral history, the stories, the neighborhood variances, even block to block within those neighborhoods. For some in the audience who appreciate the new global playing field of graffiti, a wicked handstyle may seem simply like another “font” in a collection of fonts, like a “New York handstyle” or something comparable.In contrast, for many local Philadelphians, wickeds are much more than another way to write your name, and more akin to something like religion, something sacred.
With these conflicting audiences in mind, the impetus behind this article is to provide a glimpse into the evolution of handstyles known as “wickeds”, but – at the same time – not divulge a specific “recipe” of sorts that gives away the special ingredients that comprise them. In the simplest terms, wickeds are like a local accent. You can study them, you can even learn how to do them, but without living in the city of Philadelphia and starting from scratch, most likely you’ll never be able to duplicate one, and a local will be able to spot a fake or forced wicked from a mile away.
With all that said, for the uninitiated, you must understand that the wicked handstyle is a way of writing your Philadelphia handstyle in the most advanced, technical, complex, and smooth way. If you don’t already know or understand what a regular Philadelphia handstyle is, this article is not the place to begin. In other words, you can not write a “San Francisco handstyle” as a wicked. It is a non–transferable craft. To put it harshly, as many Philadelphians have to their non–local friends over the years, “no, you do not simply put a bunch of squiggly lines in the middle” to make a letter “wicked.”