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It’s shouted in songs, graffiti on bricks, posted on social media handles, branded on businesses. and tattooed on the skin. Area code 215 is an instant cultural identifier for the Philadelphia area. When you see it, you know it’s local.
Philly has been associated with the numbers since 1947, when AT&T unified a patchwork of scrambled egg codes used across the country. Entrepreneur Tayyib Smith, who founded a magazine called Two One Five, called him “quintessential cool” for his generation.
“If you are a Temple kid who moved here from Lancaster and you ask, ‘Why is he called that? “People will give silly looks – and you’re not going to ask anymore,” said Smith, 50.
Over the past half century, metropolitan populations have grown to the point that the Federal Communications Commission has started to run out of numbers. In Philly, 267 appeared in the 1990s, causing a little panic among residents. As telephone lines continue to proliferate, new area codes are now added at high frequency.
But the original ones still bear all the stamp. Nearly three-quarters of people living in the United States say that area codes have “more prestige” than postal codes, according to a 2011 telecommunications survey. The vast majority of respondents believed that they have an area code ” recognizable ”added to the legitimacy and professionalism of companies.
As Philadelphia is increasingly recognized as a world-class city, Gucci recently released a “Philly Versus Everybody” t-shirt. which sold for $ 390 a pop – 215 Iconography has become not only a locality sign, but a good marketing tool.
For the inhabitants of the region, its cultural imprint runs deeper than commerce.
Rap music in the 1990s helped codify “the 215” as part of Philadelphia’s identity.
North Philly-born musician Dice Raw said he didn’t hear the phrase until he started making albums with The Roots. From their debut album “Organix” in 1993, Roots vocalists Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and the late Malik B made recurring references to their hometown in their jazz-accented verses.
“I’ve never said this shit in my life,” said Raw, who has recorded verses on most of the band’s albums. “It’s something that Tariq and Malik used intimately with each other. But then other people would say it.
The area code became a call sign for the group. On “Respond / React”, the opening song of their third album “Illadelph Halflife”, Black Thought wraps up the opening chorus with “All the way live, from the 2-1-5”. On 1999’s “Things Fall Apart”, Brooklyn rapper Mos Def uses it to describe his cameo appearance: “From 2-1-5 to Bucktown / Brace yourself, it’s about to drop. “
It has become a ubiquitous expression. In “Milladelphia” by Meek Mill, the native North Philly riffs on “Pulling off in the 215 / Told you it’s Meek time”. In an appearance on French Montana’s song ‘Have Mercy’, South Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel said, “This is for those who choose to use disrespectful views / On the King of Philly – represent the 215. “
It’s also now commonly co-opted as part of a stage name, used by dozens of artists found on streaming services like Spotify, Bandcamp, or Soundcloud.
This proliferation has spread to fashion, television and all facets of branding.
The Pennsylvania Business Register lists over 200 entities beginning with “215” and another 10 with “two one five”. LLCs read themselves as members of a secret society: 215 Yoga, 215 Plumber, 215 Towing, 215 Thrive, The 215 Guys, 215 Get A Cab, 215 Got Hurt, 215 Never Stop Trucking, 215 Mad Love.
The “code” is so easy to understand that most Philadelphians recognize it in a whisper or a passing glance.
For example, the Easter egg in an end-of-season episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. Will Smith’s character is shot in a heist at an ATM in California. His cousin, played by fellow Philly native DJ Jazzy Jeff, visits him in the hospital to offer comedic relief.
As the camera scrolls, there is a brief shot of the number on the door. You guessed it: he’s in room 215.
Smith of Little Giant Creative and Two One Five magazine believes that today’s ubiquity has deprived 215 of some authenticity.
“If anyone saw two-one-five uttered like we did, I knew people in a certain frame of mind would immediately go back to the days of the early Roots and epitome of cool,” a- he declared.
Others still see it as a way to represent the city. When the time came for Mike Digiacomo, owner of Tat215ive in Queen Village, to name his first tattoo shop, he couldn’t give it his name because his “last name is too hard to pronounce”, a- he declared.
“So I was listening to Black Thought, my favorite rapper, and I was writing names, and it came to my mind,” Digiacomo said.
In the mid-1990s, in the face of what the Federal Communications Commission called a number shortage “crisis”, the area code 267 was added to the region. In 1999, in a change that at the time seemed existential, residents had to start dialing 2-1-5 or 2-6-7 before making local calls.
It was a psychic break for some Philadelphians. How would we learn to get along with this alien code? If two townhouses share a wall, but not the same three-digit code, are they even really neighbors?
“[It’s] is going to tax our brains, ”a Drexel computer engineering professor told the Philadelphia Daily News about 267.“ He has no geographic reference.
Philly is not alone here. Residents of New York City suffered an emotional shock in the 1980s when Manhattan spoofed the 212 area code all to itself. More than a decade later, the people of Manhattan were upset to learn they were going to add another code to the island.
Over the years, it becomes more and more difficult to get one of the OG numbers. FCC officials predicted that Philly would even run out of 267 supplies by 2018 – and they were right. In 2016, the Pa. Public Utility Commission approved a plan to implement an overlay with another three-digit area code: 445.
As a result, a lot less brains melted. People are now used to the reality of expanding area codes and few remember numbers anyway in the smartphone age.
But as cultural traffic signs, none of the area codes have the same stamp as the 215. Would anyone ever get a 267 tattoo on their arm to represent Philly?
Doubtful, said Digiacomo, the owner of Tat215ive: “I’ve never done that.”