Dimitri Reeves has committed to memory every step of "Billie Jean," every slide and swing of "Thriller." He's mastered the shoulder pops and white-fedora flip of "Smooth Criminal."
And the crowds at Lexington Market and at 25th Street, where he normally sets up shop, eat it up. Camera phones whip out. Dollars drop. Old school Kodak disposables snap as Reeves dashes through intersections, runs up light poles, darts back across, then lies down in crosswalks (to the chagrin of incredulous drivers).
"I live his music when I'm dancing," says Reeves, a 20-year-old West Baltimore resident and St. Mary's County native. "I run around, hopping on trucks if I see the driver smiling, I climb the pole across the street, all to the music."
"The street is like home. I love it because you don't know what's going to happen. I just go for it. I don't really think. I just do it." he says. Watching the crowds gather is his favorite part. "People gather around and talk to each other. That's all I want. There's too much fighting in our community. I want to bring something positive to [Baltimore]."
Call him "lightning," as one spectator did at an October performance; call him "hot" or "Michael come back to life," as one young woman did on the same evening; but do not call him an impersonator-because, despite the numerous costume changes, he really isn't.
"Nah," Reeves says. "I'm not an impersonator. I'm committed to my own work. But let's be serious, if I performed my own stuff, that hat would be pretty empty. I'm trying to do it the Motown way. Covers to draw people in."
Michael Jackson's catchy hits act as a gateway to his own work. At one of his street performances you're guaranteed two things: a great performance and a disc of Reeves' own soul-tinged songs.
Reeves' hat, which fills up pretty quickly with crumpled bills, is manned by his manager, Vaughan Mason-no stranger to the industry thanks to his disco/hip-hop crossover hit, "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" in 1979.
"Vaughan has really made an impact on my life," Reeves says of the mentor he met at a church talent show a few years ago. "He was approached by the Commodores to open for them in May, in Hollywood, and asked me to come along. I met them. I was in the presence of greatness."
Reeves is being humble. He didn't just fly to Hollywood with Vaughan Mason and Crew, Mason's band, to hang backstage.
"We had Dimitri come out on the break of our set when we played at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Hollywood," Mason says. "He tore it up. He's got what I call 'it.'"
Thanks to Mason, Reeves also played on a Carnival cruise ship last year during a Jackson tribute act.
"The tribute act was a coincidence," Mason says. "We were in the ship's club and I said to the DJ, 'Put on some Michael Jackson and watch what happens.' He was blown away. Dimitri was asked to be in the tribute. He'll only be performing Michael's music for a little while longer. We're heading out to Vegas this winter, where Dimitri will perform his own music. He's going to be big."
Back at the street corner, when the crowds disperse and he catches his breath, Reeves will tell you that the money in the hat won't finance a career. In fact, unlike a majority of street performers, that's not what this beat-up black hat is for at all.
"That's for my mom and dad," Reeves says. "My mom is on dialysis and my father needs a new kidney. I do this for them. The money goes to medical bills." Some of his performances' take goes toward making posters and CDs as well, he says.
Reeves and Mason collect their things and drive off. As it stands now, the throne of the King of Pop remains empty. But that might not be the case for long.