That isolated incident was, in part, indicative of the unwavering figure Omar proved to be throughout the series, but some of his most admirable qualities came to the forefront during the aftermath of the heist. In the next couple episodes it becomes apparent that one of the accomplices, Brandon, is Omar’s lover. Through their interactions, a delicate and loving layer of the feared robber was beginning to be exposed. And when Brandon was killed in dramatic and gruesome fashion in retaliation for the stickup, it sent Omar on a grief-driven rampage.
Williams’s ability to bring true three-dimensional depth to Omar made him one of television’s great characters. He did the same in his many roles after “The Wire,” which is why his death in early September at age of 54 continues to resonate. But his impact on one Baltimore rapper who, at the time of “The Wire’s” first season was an 18-year-old trying to make a way for himself in the local music scene, was particularly profound.
In the mid-to-late 2000s, DDM was a mainstay in Baltimore’s underground battle rap community. He gained the respect of his peers through sharp punchlines and seething details about how his opponents were inferior as competition. But in terms of relatability, he felt at times like he was on an island within that rap ecosystem. For inspiration he looked to Williams’s portrayal of Omar as the persona he needed to fashion himself after when facing hardened crowds. After all, DDM saw more parallels between himself and Omar than he did the majority of his rap peers.
Like Omar, he grew up gay in the ’hoods of West Baltimore, determined to not be a victim to the rough environment surrounding him — despite the almost-guaranteed scrutiny he would face for being his full self. “In the character I saw someone who had to have a certain face to the world if you wanted to be taken legitimately,” DDM, now 36, said while crouched over a raggedy wooden picnic table at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, a few days after Williams’s death. “That’s where I felt a connection to the character as far as my music is concerned because Omar was aggressive, he could tussle, he was a straight shooter. That’s how I was when I was doing battles. A Viking. I fashioned myself a lot after that character.”
The connection was so strong that in 2012, after his battling days were over and “The Wire” had been off the air for four years, DDM started to promote an upcoming project titled “The Ballad of Omar.” The cover was fitting for the times: DDM’s head appeared to be Photoshopped onto the body of trenchcoat-wearing, shotgun-toting Omar, complete with a fake scar to mimic the one Williams had that stretched from the middle of his forehead to his right cheek. But the mix tape never came out. Instead, DDM started to establish himself in the Central Baltimore scene where transplants and native artists operating on the fringes of musical genres tend to congregate.
Midway through the 2010s he and local producer Paul Hutson formed a duo called Bond St. District and released two projects that joined DDM’s hard-nosed rapping with production that bounced from J Dilla-esque boom bap to songs that borrowed from indie rock and disco. In 2019 he released “Beautiful Gowns,” an album that exuded freedom and unbridled fun. Though Omar had provided a foundation for DDM to fashion himself after in the early stages of his career, the world that he’d found himself in after his battling days didn’t require the same tough exterior.
Seven years after first teasing the project, DDM didn’t know how to engage with his older self — or at least, he wasn’t ready for the work required to dig back in time. But in 2020, he was finally able to tap back into his coming-of-age story and released “The Ballad of Omar” as an eight-song album during the spring of that year.
“I started doing other projects and I had to get back into that space. A lot of that stuff is very traumatic,” he said of his lapses with the project. “When I came back to it I was able to do it correctly but also it was like a therapy session for me. By going through all that at the same time I had to relive a lot of moments in my life that I had actually blocked out to the point where I almost forgot about them. It was a lot.”
Though it uses Williams’s character as a muse, “The Ballad of Omar” isn’t a fictionalized role-play situation. What the project does is chronicle DDM’s life growing up in an inner-city West Baltimore neighborhood, pushed to toughen up because he’s surrounded by people who tell him his softness and sexuality are signs of weakness. That experience is used to draw a parallel between him and Omar who — by the time he’s first seen plotting a robbery — probably experienced a similar type of conditioning in his fictional version of West Baltimore.
“I could just really relate to the character because I knew men like that — not necessarily that would stick you up — but who were from the streets who were gay. They had a tough edge but behind closed doors were softies,” he elaborated. “When I look at ‘The Ballad of Omar’ as a project, it basically tells you how a person becomes who they are. Even though we didn’t get this huge origin story moment from the Omar character, I gave him an origin story through my own life.”
On songs like “Boys Don’t Cry,” DDM weaves in skits that are depictions of his parents drilling into him that his queerness is an issue while rapping about internalized homophobia and colorism he endured in his youth. On “Ova West” he scoffs at people who wouldn’t acknowledge his skill during those battle days because of their homophobia. And on “The Ballad of Dontay” he details his first love affair that the politics of the streets often got in the way of.
Other tracks are less autobiographical but channel the menacing, measured energy that Omar often exuded. “The Ballad of Omar” wasn’t necessarily made to honor Williams, but now it especially feels like one of the clearest signs of how much impact he had on those who saw themselves in his character.
“Baltimore is a feeling,” DDM said. “The thing with Michael K. Williams — and I didn’t get the honor of meeting him — I always admired how he portrayed Black gay men on television. They always were kick-ass. They were never weak. Even on ‘Hap and Leonard,’ he was a war vet. When you look at ‘Lovecraft Country’ and his role there, he peeled back the layers as the episodes went on and it’s like ‘Wow!’ I don’t know if it was type-casting and I can’t ask him now, but I feel like part of that was a subconscious, conscious effort. I love him for that.”