BALTIMORE – A year ago, you could’ve found them on the streets of downtown Baltimore, the thundering rattle of their snare drums ricocheting off concrete and steel. In a city known for its crime and violent culture, Timothy Fletcher and Malik Perry of A1 Chops were hoping to make it as drummers.
Their early performances were rife with detractors. “One day we were out downtown, and a police officer came up to us and said, ‘That was such trash,’ ” Fletcher said. Still, he and Perry continued honing their drumming technique and added hip-hop dance elements. Busking around Baltimore gradually turned into tours and shows out of state.
Their breakthrough came last June, when Ciara’s song “Level Up” sparked a video challenge that invited users to share footage of themselves dancing to the track. “I just thought, ‘I can drum to this,’ ” Fletcher said. “So I put it up. I added a hashtag #levelupchallenge. I jumped from 21,000 to 35,000 followers in one day.”
Ellen DeGeneres, host of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” booked them to perform on set about two weeks later. The show aired in September, and she gifted Perry and Fletcher each a new stash of drumsticks and $10,000 in cash.
Now, the young men from Baltimore are set to perform at the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade scheduled for April 13 in Washington.
Fletcher said he was “extremely excited” about participating in this year’s parade, noting that it would be his first time attending or participating. Perry said he did not know about the festival until being booked for it.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival launched March 23, with an opening ceremony at the Warner Theater. Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew said the weeks-long festival will host over 110 performances in four weeks. The festival draws about 1.5 million attendees a year, she said.
Despite their rise to success and more prominent performances, the road to the national spotlight hasn’t been easy for A1 Chops.
Perry’s parents have only recently been supportive of his developing career, he said.
“I used to skip school to go to the harbor and play drums,” said Perry, 19. He said he withdrew from classes at Baltimore City Community College as A1 Chops began to take off. “My parents wanted me to stay in school.”
Fletcher said he abruptly quit a job at Family Dollar before deciding to perform for money.
“My parents asked me, ‘You’re 20 years old. What are you going to do for money?’ ” said Fletcher, now 22. “Even though they were against it, they had my back. … Now [they’re] happy for everything that’s going on for us.”
Since their initial appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Perry and Fletcher have been invited back onto the show twice. They appeared in an EllenTube web series, “The Build Up,” in which interior design renovators John Colaneri and Anthony Carrino remodeled the duo’s new apartment and other locations in Baltimore.
Fletcher and Perry have also been involved in their high school’s after-school music program, albeit less often now with tours taking them out of the city.
Of their future, Perry said, “I want to open up and perform for big artists,” while Fletcher wants them to be “the headline and performance leaders.”