Decoding ESPO’s Old City Mural: Rick Ross, RUIN, Revival and the Death of Jawn

Unlocking the references and translating the hieroglyphs. — Part 5 of ~1,000,000


Previously:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

ESPO Doesn’t really court controversy in his massive Old City Mural installation on Second Street, but burying the word “jawn” will surely seem premature to some people. It’s true, Creed let the world in on the city’s curiously long-lasting neologism (I first heard it in ’94), but does that mean it’s time for a tombstone and a setting sun? It might. It did have a good run.

Now, let’s look at this multi-color block of odds and ends:


  • City: That’s part of the big ‘OLD(E) CITY’ centerpiece.
  • NNB: Gotta be the beautifully weird rock band Need New Body from the ’00s. Part of the Bent Leg Fatima/Man Man weirdo rock lineage.
  • In Congress/Quill: The Declaration of Independence, from when Philadelphia invented America.
  • Chef Dex/Hat: Hmm. Probably not a reference to Dexter “Dex” Jettster, owner/operator of Coruscant’s popular restaurant Dex’s Diner. I asked ESPO and he replied “chef Dex works across the street.” Hmm. He might mean this Dex, or this Dex.
  • Philly Joe/Hat/Drums: Philly Joe Jones was the renowned jazz drummer for Miles Davis, Dameronia and more. Born here, died here, toured the world in between. Watch this.
  • Bad Brains: D.C. hardcore punk band. Philly’s in-demand multi-instrumentalist Chuck Treece played drums with them for a while.
  • Club Revival: A popular nightclub on Third Street, ’85-’95. According to immortal Philly rock writer A.D. Amorosi, it was an “after-after hour decadence and progressive music outlook made it Philly’s Studio 54, Max’s Kansas City, Le Cirque and Area all rolled into one darkly fabulous mascara-soaked eight-ball.”
  • Tattar Drums Up Publicity: Scott Tattar is both a drummer — you may know him as Scott Dot of the ’80s band Pleasure Dotz — and a public relations dude in the area. Here he is getting an award for his work with the Streets Dept., Taco Bell and the Fairmount Park Conservancy. And here he is playing drums at 4 Fathers in Old City with Paul Tucker and Carol Moog.
  • Brecker Brothers: Jazz fusion and funk duo Randy and Michael Brecker. Wikipedia says they’re from New York, but they were from Cheltenham first.
  • The Nazz/“Todd Given”: The once apocryphal late-’60s psych/mod band The Nazz featured Robert “Stewkey” Antoni on vocals and keys and Todd Rundgren on guitar.
  • Rick Ross: Could be a reference to “Freeway” Rick Ross, the infamous L.A. drug trafficker (the guy local rapper Freeway is named after). Or it could be the rapper/former prison guard currently calling himself Rick Ross (the guy local rapper Meek Mill hangs out with for some reason). Or it could be our current police commissioner, Richard Ross.
  • Betsy Ross: She invented flags.
  • Scissors: I think those are Betsy’s scissors.

And let’s examine this little nearby bit in detail:


  • Khyber Pass Sign: Before it was a great place to get a vegan po’ boy, the Khyber was the best rock club in the city, the place every indie band played in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s.
  • ESPO/Bird Getting Kicked: Weird? Maybe ESPO got kicked out of the Khyber? “Yes, I got kicked out of the Khyber,” says ESPO. “I’m sure I deserved it.”
  • Tile Dude: “The little tile is the logo for legendary band RUIN,” ESPO tells me. Ah yes. Should’ve gotten that one.
  • CEM/Spraypaint: CEM is another east coast graffiti king.
  • J.C. Dobb’s: South Street’s tiny beloved rock venue of some repute. Nirvana played there and it was so humid it starting raining indoors, according to legend. The spot later became the Pontiac Grille and the recently closed Legendary Dobb’s.
  • Clark DeLeon/Rugby Ball: Veteran Inquirer columnist. Still writing. Sometimes seen in a tricorner hat. Used to play rugby.
  • Quest <3/Drum: Questlove of the Roots, Tonight Show band leader, author, DJ, drummer, obvs.

This series continues tomorrow.