By JAY REY
Posted October 12, 2022
As the sound of heavy bass came closer and closer, louder and louder, the students turned to find the music and spotted the familiar sight of AJ Franklin crossing the quad, his two boomboxes clutched in each hand. .
“Yeah, it’s a little awkward,” Franklin said of the stares, “but I’m not going to let that put you off.”
In fact, since arriving on campus in 2019 as a freshman, Franklin — aka Boombox Guy — has become something of a celebrity at UB. Franklin’s boombox game, while sometimes polarizing, has become part of campus culture, his notoriety credited with his election win for the UB Council this year.
“My time at UB was great,” says Franklin, 21, a psychology major. “In the first month I’ve been on this campus, the way people have embraced me for carrying my boomboxes and me for expressing myself, it was amazing to have that – and it made me really opened my eyes.”
Before he was known as Boombox Guy, Franklin simply enjoyed listening to music during his 30-minute walk to and from Uncommon Preparatory Charter High School in Brooklyn. He tried headphones, but there was a different feel when listening to music through his wireless Bluetooth speakers.
It lifted his spirits and gave him confidence.
“It’s the same way a costume works for a lot of people or when the boys in the locker room cheer each other on,” Franklin says. “That’s it for me.”
make a name
Once he got to UB, Franklin got better. He bought two JBL boomboxes and continued his tradition of playing his music for everyone to hear as he walked around campus every day. First dubbed Boombox Guy by someone on Reddit, Franklin quickly made a name for himself.
Not everyone enjoyed the serenade. He heard more than a few comments, not from administrators or professors, but from other students.
“Do you want to turn it off?” someone would ask.
“You know it’s boring?” someone else would say.
But over time, Franklin said he found more people who liked Boombox Guy than those who didn’t.
Students stopped to take selfies with him. Some posted videos of him walking across campus. Others have regularly asked him to DJ their parties and events.
“Initially it was more for my self-expression and self-confidence,” Franklin says, “but over time it became more like, ‘I don’t just make this music for me – I make it for other people too.
“Even though I didn’t expect it, people really liked it,” Franklin says.
Phyllis Floro, Director of Student Engagement, is one of them. The sounds of Boombox Guy echoing in the distance cheer him up.
“AJ is a refreshing part of our day here at Student Union,” says Floro. “When you see him walking around campus, he has this bounce in his step and it looks like he’s on a mission.”
Of course, being Boombox Guy isn’t easy.
You need the commitment to make sure the boomboxes are fully charged before you leave the apartment every morning and the determination to lug around 13 pounds in each arm all day. While facing the stares of critics, you are also cultivating your reputation with your fans.
Like any good DJ, Franklin weighs his mood and that of the campus before deciding what to play from his playlist of 3,402 songs. He said he takes all the backlash to heart and considers how much, when and where to play his boomboxes.
“I think I’m a very reasonable person in the way I play my music,” he says. “I don’t want to play it too loud or I don’t want to be inconsiderate if people are sleeping or studying or having an event.
“But just because some people want me to quit doesn’t mean I’m going to quit,” he says. “If people just tell me to say no because they don’t like it, well, I completely understand, but there are other people who don’t feel the same way.”
You’ll often hear Franklin passing by the Student Union, walking along the college spine, or waiting at the bus stop. On this beautiful afternoon at the end of August, it’s the South Campus quad.
Franklin’s song choice is “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey: “It’s a sunny day, people are feeling it and I just thought people would vibe,” Franklin says.
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Count Me Out’ tops her playlist right now: ‘This song is very much about me because I really feel like I’ve been left out so many times in my life,’ says Franklin .
He also likes to play “Virgo’s Groove” by Beyonce. Franklin says, “You might not like some songs I play, but if you don’t like this one…”
More than just a Boombox Guy
When he’s not Boombox Guy, Franklin is a DJ, student marketing assistant for Blackstone LaunchPad, and associate editor for The Spectrum, the student newspaper.
As a campus activist, Franklin founded the “Amplify” party which campaigned in the last two student elections. He was Director of Recruitment for the UB Marketing Association and a member of the School of Management’s Student Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Over the summer, Franklin served as an intern promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for startup Team Real Talk Inc., as well as a volunteer literacy tutor with Read 718, which helps students from low-income families in New York.
He is also the last member of the UB Council, the university’s main supervisory and advisory body.
Undeterred by the loss of the Student Association President election that year, Franklin decided to run for the position of Student Representative on the Council – and won.
Parking, student mental health, and making sure underrepresented students feel like they have a voice on campus are just a few of the issues on his agenda.
“Of course, I may not be able to make all the changes I want to make, but the honor of being the voice of students is something I don’t take for granted,” Franklin says.
“Now that he’s in his leadership role, I think people see another side of him and his commitment to giving back,” says Floro, the director of student engagement.
In fact, politics could be in Franklin’s future. He has a long list of aspirations for the end of his time at UB – politician, entrepreneur, talent manager, producer, activist, philanthropist, journalist and radio DJ among them.
“I love it. I could be Boombox Guy for as long as I want,” Franklin says. “But it’s not the end for me. There is much more than Boombox Guy.