HBO’s The Wire made its TV debut ten years ago. Set in Baltimore, the show presented a gristly insider’s account of how the city runs, linking relationships from the corner drug trade and local docks up through the political, police and media machines. Over five seasons, The Wire also became something of a phenomenon within the hip-hop world, with much of the show’s street-centered scenes dripping with the sort of slang and sounds that pepper many a great rap song. So with this weekend marking the ten-year-anniversary of the first season’s finale, Hive tapped up a quartet of rappers with confirmed Wire habits, Pusha T, Bun B, Big K.R.I.T. and Sean Price, to drop a tribute to the show.
First Impressions: From the Corner to Snot Boogie
The Wire is the spiritual sequel to The Corner, David Simon’s earlier foray into documenting Baltimore’s underbelly. But from the get-go, The Wire amped up the intensity, broadened its scope, and always pitched at the viewer from more than one angle.
Pusha T: From the start, I thought the show was amazing and, most importantly, it felt like a greater depiction of that whole Baltimore landscape than [what] I saw in The Corner. The Corner came first – it was like a showcase for that. But I thought The Wire was a way better showcase than The Corner.
Bun B: I remember seeing The Wire on the opening night. I knew the team behind it from watching The Corner, it was on HBO, but I didn’t realize how great and how much like a phenomenon it was going to become.
Sean Price: Some good friends, Wood Harris [who played Avon Barksdale] and Michael K Williams [who played Omar Little], were on The Wire. I’ve known Mike for a long time – he was in a Smif ’N’ Wessun video called “Night Riders” and we used to live around the corner from each other. I remember Wood Harris coming to my crib and telling me about the show before it happened and how he enjoyed it. I was intrigued, I was open.
Bun B: I remember the mood of reality that they struck. The first thing that caught me by surprise was how real it’s gonna be. It’s not gonna be the typical police drama where the drug dealer is the bad guy and the cop’s the good guy — it’s not that simple. The lines aren’t drawn that clear.
Big K.R.I.T.: Man, it was super gritty! Just from the aspect of the street part, it was super gritty!
Pusha T: The slang was there. I felt like it was so authentic, man. They used a lot of people from Baltimore, but the ones that wasn’t part of Baltimore overdid it so much that you would have thought that everyone was definitely from the area. I felt like they did a damn good job.
Bun B: Usually when we see these stories we only see the cop and the drug dealer, maybe the henchman, but you never really get to know what it’s like being a user or the child of a drug addict or the spouse of a drug addict. It also shows you how difficult the police’s job is. I think the people putting the show really knew what they were talking about. It was about the dynamics of life and a society which is hooked so much on drugs.
Sean Price: I saw the first episode when it first dropped. I guess that was the Snot Boogie episode, when the kid’s on the floor and his name’s Snot Boogie. It was dope! I was open!
Barksdale and Bell: The Rise and Downfall of an Empire
At the show’s outset, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell are the city’s drug kingpins. But as The Wire progresses, cracks start to develop between Avon and his second-in-command which culminate in a defiantly bloody end involving a hired hit-man.
Big K.R.I.T.: I immediately gravitated towards Avon, ’cause he put himself in a position where nobody really knew who he was. He’d been in the streets so long but nobody really knew what he looked like. The fact of being that low-key was super interesting to me, ’cause the game he was in, to stay under the radar completely was a feat.
Bun B: With Stringer Bell, I knew it was going to be something about him at some point; something about him just did not sit right for me.
Big K.R.I.T.: If I was Avon, I wouldn’t have tried to get back the corners. If you think about it, as soon as Avon got out [of prison], Stringer was on some, “Yo, I’m trying to clean this up, I got a way to make this clean.” But Avon was about trying to take back the corners and he wanted them on a street credibility aspect. Even after being locked up he wanted to be back in the street. But me, I’d have been trying to get out of the street.
Pusha T: I really really really did not like how Stringer Bell went out. I did not like that. I was not into how he ended up. You know, he tried to conform. He was conforming and trying to change over but he wasn’t being accepted and he could never acknowledge that and ultimately that was the end of him. Loyalty and everything was compromised.
Bun B: Usually when the head guy is going to get taken down, it’s the guy closest to him plotting on him. To take the big guy down you need access and nobody has more access than the right hand man.
Sean Price: When Avon was in jail and they had that bad dope and he hired Brother Mouzone to keep them n*ggas out the projects, Stringer was set against it.
Big K.R.I.T.: When Brother Mouzone caught up to Stringer Bell, it was like, “Damn!”
Sean Price: I love Brother Mouzone, man. I don’t know if he was Muslim or Nation of Islam, I just dug the character. He was so cool as the New York hit man. It just go to show New York got a lot to do with everything! [Avon] hired a killer from New York to come down and straighten it all out. He knew his job, he was a hit man and he was very good at it. He wasn’t just a dumb n*gga with a gun, you could tell that.
Big K.R.I.T.: When you see Stringer go out, he’s been trying to manipulate and lie about Omar and all the karma caught up to him, like having D’Angelo [Barksdale] killed.
Sean Price: If I was Stringer Bell, I would have not met no cop at the graveyard and gave my man up. That shit, man, you bugging the fuck out! You got to have a private sit down with nobody there. This is not it, duke. Even if he didn’t get it, I’d be like fuck it: I’d go our separate ways before I go, “Here you go officer, here’s my man, lock him up.” He was foul. Not foul for killing D’Angelo – all’s fair in war and this n*gga’s a loose cannon — but I’m mad at him for giving that cop the info. I ain’t appreciate that shit at all.
Bun B: I probably wouldn’t have fucked [Avon’s] girl. Pussy always brings down the regime.
Have Shotgun, Will Travel: Everybody Loves Omar
Michael K. Williams’ Omar Little, a homosexual thug with a passion for robbing drug dealers at shotgun-point, remains The Wire’s most iconic character. Here’s why everybody hearts Omar, even after his demise.
Bun B: Omar might be one of the best-written characters ever in television, and one of the best-acted characters ever in television. I don’t think any other actor could have pulled off the sensitivity and the gangsterism as well as Michael.
Pusha T: When Omar died? Wow! You know what? It said a lot. I felt like it had a meaning, a big meaning to the show. It showed the cycle of what happens in urban areas all the time. That was a really strong theme in just showing that the cycle of violence continues and so forth.
Bun B: It was obvious a person like that wasn’t going to live through everything. I didn’t know how he was going to die, but at the end of the day he kinda cared too much. As long as someone has a way to get to you, they will.
Sean Price: Was I surprised when Omar died? No. I’m from Brownsville, n*ggas like that don’t last long.
The New Generation: Marlo, Snoop and Chris
With the Barksdale empire falling, a new kid comes on the scene with scant regard for the reputation and values of his drug-peddling fore-fathers. Rolling with hit-girl Snoop and enforcer Chris Partlow, Baltimore soon becomes Marlo Stanfield’s world.
Pusha T: Ah, man, I loved when Marlo came on to the cast. Marlo was young and unruly and I felt like it speaks for a lot of people. That’s what it is right now in a lot of different cultures and even in music genres — the young and unruly are successful. In the streets, the young are disrespectful of the codes and the ethics went out the window when Marlo came aboard. It was really entertaining.
Big Sean: I thought that was dope. I was thinking what they gonna do, ’cause they locked Avon up. But Marlo was perfect, same as Snoop and Chris. They was wild, I liked them.
Big K.R.I.T.: Marlo was a new-age aspect where there was really no respect. There wasn’t no code as far as young ’uns trying to get along with Prop Joe and Stringer when they had the whole coalition. He felt like he really shouldn’t have been in the organization and what they were doing ’cause it was like a dog eat dog and kill or be killed situation for Marlo. But he added a certain amount of aggression to the show ’cause he was relentless.
Pusha T: I remember the scene where Marlo was among the rest of the dealers — the Co-Op – when they would have those meetings. He was with the Co-Op and Marlo did not want to buy; he was adamant about not doing it and he didn’t care. He felt like his money was good where it was. He was very successful with that. I just thought it was very disrespectful but it showed his strength.
Favorite Characters, Favorite Seasons, and Pet Peeves
Our cast of experts pick their lasting highs and lows from The Wire’s five seasons.
Big K.R.I.T.: Believe it or not, I really liked season two with The Greek because it was so kinda left field, with the docks and how they’re maneuvering.
Big Sean: I just didn’t like the second season, with Frank Sobotka, even though they did introduce us to The Greek. That shipyard shit was corny. The other part of the season was great.
Big K.R.I.T. I ain’t gonna front, the newspaper aspect [season five] when they was trying to get the stories right was sad, but it got a little boring to me. It was all tied in to the politics and Clay Davis — he was one of those people who kinda got annoying on the show — but I need to go back and watch it all again knowing what I do about politics and interviews now.
Bun B: For me, it was probably season three actually. I think a lot of people initially got discouraged with season two. I understood where they were going but I wasn’t sure about what sort of show it was going to be anymore: First it’s this drug drama, then it veered off and showed a different part of the city. Season three brought it full circle, and that’s when I realized they understood what was great about this show — that they brought it back and it was actually better than before for it.
Big K.R.I.T.: I did not like Cheese, man! Just because of the Prop Joe situation, being family and turning on Prop Joe. I also didn’t really understand how Omar lived as long as he did, just being a person who walked through the projects with a shotgun and just being one person and nobody tried to take him out.
Bun B: I really liked the [Jimmy] McNulty character. I don’t see any parallel between me and him, but I loved that he was as dedicated to trying to stop it as the drug dealers were trying to maintain it. Neither side was going to back down.
Sean Price: My favorite scene is when Snoop says, “’Deserve’ got nothin’ to do with it.” She’s about to get killed by little Mike in the car. “Ain’t you wonder if he even deserve any of this shit?” “’Deserve’ got nothin’ to do with it. It’s his time, that’s all.”