Published October 12, 2022
As the sound of a heavy bass drew closer and closer, growing louder and louder, the students turned to find the music and spotted the familiar sight of A.J. Franklin striding across the quad, his two boomboxes gripped in each hand.
“Yeah, it’s a little awkward,” Franklin says of the stares, “but I’m not going to let it deter me.”
In fact, since arriving on campus in 2019 as a first-year, Franklin — aka Boombox Guy — has become somewhat of a celebrity at UB. Franklin’s boombox playing, while sometimes polarizing, is now part of the campus culture, his notoriety credited for his election victory to the UB Council this year.
“My time at UB has been great,” says Franklin, 21, a senior psychology major. “Within the first month of me being on this campus, the way people embraced me for carrying around my boomboxes and me expressing myself, it was amazing to have that — and it 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 listening to the music through his wireless Bluetooth speakers.
It lifted his spirits and gave him confidence.
“It’s the same way a suit works for a lot of people or when the boys in the locker room are cheering each other on,” Franklin explains. “This is that for me.”
Once he arrived at UB, Franklin upgraded. He bought two JBL boomboxes and continued his tradition of playing his music for all to hear as he set off on campus each day. First dubbed Boombox Guy by someone on Reddit, Franklin quickly made a name for himself.
Not everyone appreciated the serenade. He heard more than a few comments, not from administrators or faculty, but from fellow students.
“Will you turn that off?” someone would ask.
“Do you know that’s annoying?” someone else would say.
But as time went on, Franklin said he found more people who appreciated Boombox Guy than those who did not.
Students stopped to snap selfies with him. Some posted videos of him walking across campus. Others regularly asked him to DJ their parties and events.
“Originally, it was more for my self-expression and invigorating confidence in myself,” Franklin says, “but over time it became more like, ‘I’m not just doing this music thing for myself — I’m doing it for other people, as well.’
“Even though I wasn’t expecting it, people really liked this,” Franklin says.
Phyllis Floro, director of student engagement, is one of them. The sounds of Boombox Guy resonating in the distance boost her spirits.
“A.J. is a refreshing part of our day here in the Student Union,” Floro says. “When you see him walking across campus, he has this bounce in his step and just 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 leaving the apartment every morning and the determination to lug around 13 pounds in each arm all day. While dealing with the stares of critics, you’re 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 to heart any negative reactions and considers how loud to play his boomboxes, when and where.
“I think I’m a very reasonable person with the way I go about playing 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 stop doesn’t mean I’ll stop,” he says. “If people are just telling me to turn it down because they don’t like it, well, I definitely understand, but there are other people who don’t feel the same way.”
You’ll often hear Franklin while passing through the Student Union, walking along the academic spine or waiting at the bus stop. On this beautiful, late-August afternoon, 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 to it,” Franklin says.
“Count Me Out” by Kendrick Lamar is at the top of his playlist right now: “That song is very relatable to me, because I definitely feel I have been counted out a lot of times in my life,” Franklin says.
He also loves playing “Virgo’s Groove” by Beyonce. Franklin says: “You may not like certain songs I play, but if you don’t like this one…”
When he is not being Boombox Guy, Franklin is a DJ, a marketing student assistant for Blackstone LaunchPad and assistant features editor for The Spectrum, the student newspaper.
As a campus activist, Franklin founded the “Amplify” party that has campaigned the past two student elections. He has served as director of recruitment for the UB Marketing Association and as a member of the School of Management’s Student Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Over the summer, Franklin was an intern promoting diversity, equity and inclusion for the startup Team Real Talk Inc., as well as a literacy tutor volunteer with Read 718, which assists students from low-income families in New York City.
He also is the latest member of the UB Council, the primary oversight and advisory body to the university.
Undeterred by losing the election for president of the Student Association this 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.
“Sure, I might not be able to make all the changes I want to make, but the honor of being the voice for students is something I don’t take for granted,” Franklin says.
“Now that he’s in his leadership position I think people are seeing another side of him and this commitment by him to give back,” says Floro, the student engagement director.
In fact, politics might be in Franklin’s future. He keeps a long list of aspirations for when his time at UB is over — politician, entrepreneur, talent manager, producer, activist, philanthropist, journalist and radio DJ among them.
“I love this. I could be Boombox Guy for as long as I want to be,” Franklin says. “But this is not the end for me. There’s a whole lot more than Boombox Guy.”