D.C. Icon: More Than Slim Charles
HBO’s The Wire is unarguably one of the most revolutionary series in the history of the small screen. That’s saying alot, considering that the series failed to receive the coveted awards of which it was so deserving, like an Emmy. You’d be hard-pressed to find a show as accepted by all demographics and social classes as the five-season portrayal of life in Baltimore. The show produced some of the most iconic characters of all-time, like homosexual stickup kid Omar, and monotone druglord Marlo Stanfield. But it’s Slim Charles, the loyal henchman of the Avon Barksdale clan that may be one of, if not the most pivotal.
Season 3 kicks off as the Barksdale’s look to bounce back from the ravishing incarcerations of key players like Avon Barksdale and the demolition of the Franklin Terrace Towers. Roughly 10 minutes into the first episode, it happens. The tall, lanky Charles makes his formal introduction to the world, addressing the business-savvy vice president of the Barksdale operation, Stringer Bell.
The year was 2004, when BlackPlanet was the only social network that I had any knowledge of. My AOL dial-up internet was far too slow to take the platform serious. Anyway, the appearance of Charles instantly made my jaw drop, as I turned to my AT&T house phone to call my friends. As the show aired at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, I hesitated, ultimately deciding against waking up my friends entire home by giving them a ring.
As a resident of the Washington D.C. area, I was thoroughly familiar with this man, who I simply knew as “Big G”. His birthname is Anwan Glover, but G was the name you hear resonating through the area. See, G was and still is the frontman, the face of the Backyard Band. For over three decades, the BYB has been arguably the most recognizable go-go band from the area. Following the blueprint created by the late Chuck Brown, G, like many other aspiring young men and women, attempted to create a band that would keep the Nation’s Capital rockin’.The go-go sound is a continuous beat, a combination of drums and congas or timbales mixed with an assortment of other instruments known as the backline. The “frontline” consists of a singer, a hypeman, and usually a rapper. But the most important and visible person in a go-go band is the lead mic. This is the conductor of the show, using their hands to strategically maneuver between songs without a pause. They also recognize the neighborhoods or groups via call-and-response or special chants dedicated to a particular group or person. This action is called “stamping”. Everyone wants to be recognized in the party, no different than the uncanny “Where Brooklyn At?” heard resonating through every New York club and house party.
But anyway, G has commanded the Backyard Band since the days of cassette tapes, performing at every corner of the D.C. area, from holes in the wall like the IBEX to RFK Stadium, the former home of the Washington Redskins. Unlike in rap, the D.C. area pays homage to those before them. Knowing about Backyard Band as a kid is equivalent to being aware of 2Pac, even though that may very well be past your time. Going to a Backyard Band show after a certain age is a rite of passage, similar to a Bar Mitzvah for a 13-year old jewish boy.
Seeing G on this show took the admiration I had for the series to another level. The show was all anyone talked about in school that next day, expressions of excitement met with confusion. The confusion, on the fact that Glover was a D.C. guy participating in a Baltimore-based show. Nowadays, “Chocolate City” is more gluten-free than ever, with gentrification bringing in the flood of white faces into what was once the blackest city in America. But back in 2004, D.C. was still as chocolate as a Hershey bar, and it still hated Baltimore. I was subconsciously raised to hate Baltimore, as were many of my friends. It might’ve been from the “oldheads” and their stories of the drug wars of the 80’s, or the stories of Baltimore vs D.C. in the penal system over decades. The two areas are less than an hour apart, depending on how fast you drive. And unless you spent time in Baltimore, you’d never know that they shared more similarities than differences. But from who started the style of wearing New Balances, to slang, to who is softer, the debates have been everlasting. It wasn’t until I moved to Charm City as a student at Morgan State University, that I developed a better understanding, and ultimately love for Baltimore.
But here he was, on a Baltimore show, remaining as D.C. as ever. Those outside the area may have seen no difference, mistaking the vastly different Baltimore and D.C. drawls for one in the same. But G kept his D.C. style and swagger in tact, using slang like “Joe” and sporting D.C. urban fashion like “We R One” and “HOBO”. The incredible writing of creator David Simon paired with Glover’s boisterous charisma made for an excellent character, one of the best in the series. In a series with so many pivotal deaths, Charles not only lives, but he rises to the head of the Co-Op at the end of Season 5, reigning as a new king in his own right.
Immediately after his insertion into the series, Glover celebrity grew. This led to roles on tv series like Law & Order and movies like 12 Years A Slave. Glover has appeared in several movies, all the while remaining the face of Go-Go at a time when it is seemingly being pushed out by the powers that be. As venues continue to be closed around the D.C. area, the Backyard Band still manages to host events almost daily, bringing in crowds of hundreds ready to crank. Glover’s activeness in DC is unprecedented, working with groups like Peaceaholics to maintain order and stop the violence. He’s even seen the release of his own signature sneaker, courtesy of Ewing Athletics, in a D.C. silhouette. The $100 shoe sold out immediately at retailers in the area, a testament to Glover’s reputation and adoration.
D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy and late Baltimore emcee Lor Scoota made waves with their 2015 hit “Bird Flu”. Recent Republic Record signees Bandhunta Izzy and Will The Rapper have also bridged the gap between the two areas via music. But it’s G’s contribution to one of the greatest shows in history that not only paved the way for the aforementioned, but pushed forward in the fight for peace between two of the country’s most notorious cities.