There has been a slew of television shows that have impacted the hip-hop community and stood the test of time, but few have left viewers on the edge of their seat like the HBO original series Oz, which gave listeners a realistic fictional account of life in the penal system. Created by Tom Fontana, Oz, which premiered on July 12, 1997, takes place in the Emerald City unit at the Oswald State Penitentiary, a fictional level 4 maximum-security state prison that houses the most ruthless criminals.
Following the life and times of inmates like Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), Vernon Schillinger (J.K. Simmons), Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo), Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters) and Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Oz became one of the more riveting and influential TV shows of its time, with an unfiltered look at the harsh realities that prison inmates deal with on a daily basis. In addition to touching on the violence, corruption, addiction, and sexual assault that dictates the flow of power in prison, Oz was also notable for embracing the hip-hop community, with rap stars like LL Cool J, Master P, Treach, Lord Jamar, and Method Man all making appearances on the show.
In 2001, Avatar Records even released a soundtrack inspired by the show, with contributions from artists from all coasts, further strengthening the show's standing within the hip-hop community. The first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by HBO, Oz would run for six-seasons and be one of the more successful television dramas of its time, paving the way for The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and other shows that would follow in its wake.
With 15 years having passed since the series finale aired on February 23, 2003, read below for 11 characters from Oz that struck an unforgettable chord with the hip-hop community.
11. Andrea Phelan
The lone African-American female correctional officer, Andrea Phelan (Sandra "Pepa" Denton) is the supervising officer on Unit B, which housed members of the Aryan Brotherhood during the show's last three seasons. Although her screen time is relatively sparse, Andrea Phelan exudes a no-nonsense attitude and commands the respect of the inmates and her fellow correctional officers alike.
10. Curtis Bennett
Curtis Bennett may have only been featured in one episode of Oz, but the fact that the character was played by none other than Master P makes him even more memorable. Convicted of sex-trafficking, Bennett would inform Aryan Brotherhood leader Vern Shillinger that Carrie, the mother of his son's child, was a prostitute and speculate that the grand-daughter, Jewel, may not be his - leading Schillinger to threaten Bennett's life. It would ultimately be discovered that Bennett was, in fact, telling the truth about Carrie's history as a prostitute; however, paternity tests would prove that Jewel was Schillinger's biological grandchild.
9. Jiggy Walker
In prison, your anonymity can often mean you can make up a persona and be anyone you want, which is what inmate Jiggy Walker (LL Cool J) did during his tenure at Oz. Convicted of second-degree murder and an admitted drug-dealer, Jiggy Walker would claim to fellow prisoners that he has sold Governor James Devlin narcotics in the past, going as far as repeating those accusations publicly in several interviews. In the end, it would be proved that Walker had completely made the story up in an attempt to get respect and attention, and would never be heard from again.
8. Malcolm Coyle
During Oz's third season, an inmate by the name of Malcolm Coyle (Treach) would make his way into Emerald City, causing a stir between the Italians and the African-American factions. Convicted of grand larceny and armed robbery, Coyle, a friend of Kenny Wangler, would get himself in hot water after revealing the details of an unsolved murder he committed to fellow inmate Augustus Hill, who would go to Warder Glynn with the information, resulting in Coyle being convicted and sent to death row. However, the Italians would get to Coyle before the needle ever could, making him yet another casualty of the prison politics in Oz.
7. Tug Daniels
Convicted of attempted murder after shanking Supreme Allah during a visit in retaliation for the murder of his brother, Tug Daniels (Method Man) would enter the Oz prison system during the show's fourth season and become a member of Burr Redding's Homeboys gang. However, after it was discovered that Tug Daniels was secretly working with Supreme Allah in an effort to gain full control of the drug trade, he would be brutally beaten and murdered in the prison gym at the hands of his own crew, evidence that disloyalty and deception are two of the worst sins one could commit in Oz.
6. Supreme Allah
Despite of his relatively brief tenure as an inmate at Oz, Supreme Allah (Lord Jamar) is one of the more charismatic characters on the show and quickly gains access into the underbelly of the Emerald City drug trade. A member of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths, Supreme Allah ruffles feathers with Muslim leader Kareem Said due to his growing influence and favor among the prisoners, many of whom he persuades to join the Five Percent Nation. Responsible for the incarceration of Augustus Hill, Supreme Allah would pay the ultimate price and be murdered for his transgressions - a reminder of the karma that often comes to find inmates at Oz.
5. Kenny Wangler
One of the younger inmates to ever call Oz home, Kenny Wangler (J.D. Williams), who was convicted of murder, is the prototypical hard rock bred by the streets and burdened by a lack of guidance. A loyal soldier who is involved in Oz's drug trade and is cold enough to order the murder of the mother of his child, Wangler constantly shows signs of immaturity and a lack of emotional intelligence throughout the show's first four seasons, ultimately becoming a victim of his own foolish pride.
4. Arnold "Poet" Jackson
In a place where death was imminent and around every corridor, one of the few characters on Oz who managed to survive until the show's conclusion was Arnold "Poet" Jackson (muMs Da Schemer), an inmate who would be granted parole after writing an acclaimed poetry book, only to be re-incarcerated in Oz after committing a murder. More comfortable as a henchman and underling, Poet's hands would stay relatively clean in terms of bloodshed during the show's six seasons. but his mess-hall poetry readings gave Oz an added dimension and spoke to the life of the average inmate.
3. Kareem Said
Muslim leader and prison Imam Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker) was one of the more powerful characters on Oz, making his presence felt as he emerged as the defacto leader and spokesman for the inmates in Emerald City. Known for being a revolutionary and taking an interest in the lives of troubled inmates, Kareem Said was respected by the prisoners and the prison staff alike, with the latter often forced to confer with him in an attempt to maintain order and to broker peace. After murdering Simon Adebisi in self-defense during the show's fourth season, Said would become deeply conflicted and struggle with his personal demons leading up to his murder during a visit with Lemuel Idzik, who posed as a news reporter in order to get access to Said. His vision for the inmates of Emerald City was a dream deferred.
2. Augustus Hill
Oz's narrator, Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), was among the more complex characters on the show, with his sense of humanity and integrity casting him as a beacon of hope and reason in a place where such ethos was non-existent. A paraplegic, Augustus Hill would be one of many characters to battle his demons, which included a bout with drug addiction, the death of his mother, and a divorce from his wife - setbacks that would ultimately lead him down a path of self-destruction at the conclusion of the show's fifth season. Setting the tone with his opening and closing monologues and occasional intermissions, his weekly commentary on all things Oz was one of the more invaluable aspects of the show.
1. Simon Adebisi
For viewers who tuned into Oz during the show's six-season run, whenever Simon Adebisi's (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) mean mug touched the screen, you knew things had the potential to get hectic, which they usually did, as Adebisi was among the show's more ruthless and bloodthirsty characters. Known for murder, drug trafficking and sodomy, Simon Adebisi would ultimately meet his demise in ironic fashion during the show's fourth season. His character is unforgettable, and has come to define everything that Oz was about.