When I first got down there, I did my homework to learn the specific Baltimore accent. I remember sitting at a table at Faidley’s, in the back of Lexington Market, over some crab cakes, and just watching and eavesdropping on people for hours. I picked up the interesting phrases, the habits of speech, the way those vowels sometimes took left turns. Baltimore has this character, like a stew, that comes from being part North and part South. Some things come up from Virginia and the Carolinas (where my dad’s family was from), and some down from the Northeast. It all converged in Baltimore, meshed together, and became its own unique thing.
When I came out of the downtown market and—in broad daylight—saw addicts nodding out right at the corner of Eutaw Street, I actually thought it was a setup for a shot for The Wire. I didn’t know much about Baltimore, but that sight woke me up. It drove home what we were doing. I’d met some people, heard some stories, and learned that the life expectancy in the Black neighborhoods of Baltimore is worse than in North Korea and Syria. Part of my process involved walking around the hood to get a sense of what it was like, especially at night. I knew East Flatbush, but you can’t just transfer one hood to the other. I feel like too many shows and films just do “New York” when they’re trying to capture a certain kind of urban Black community. But David Simon and Ed Burns were definitely going for something specific. There are similarities—we’re all human—but the character and textures are different, and I aimed to absorb what I could.
One late night I was driving around that area with a friend—windows down, sunroof open—and I heard some dude yelling what sounded like “Airyo!” After the second or third time, I pulled up at the curb and called one of them over to the window.
“What is that?” I asked. “What are you saying? ‘Air-Yo’?”
“Where you from?” he asked.
“What do you say in Brooklyn when you call each other?”
“Oh!” I said as it clicked. “You’re saying ‘Aye yo’?”
So I worked that into Omar’s vocabulary. It’s like “Hey, yo”—but “Aye yo,” with a peculiar Baltimore r sound jammed in there that took some practice, as did Omar’s specific drawl. I got compliments from Baltimore people on that, and when viewers were surprised I was from Brooklyn, that meant a lot to me.
Scenes from My Life
Michael K. Williams, with Jon Sternfeld
Highly recommend this book. After I read this I re-watched, for the nth time, Season 1 of The Wire. Still awesome. Still my favorite show.