DJ AJ: The man behind the music
Introducing ‘Boombox Guy’ and the campus controversy infecting the internet
It’s mid-day, and the Student Union is swarming with students. Lines are long and tables are full. The building is noisy with chatter.
Suddenly, a deep bass riff starts to resonate throughout the building. The light buzz intensifies as its source leaves The Commons and heads toward SU.
The glass doors open, and “Starboy” by The Weeknd explodes throughout the building.
In walks AJ Franklin –– the freshman business administration major and campus legend –– with two JBL boomboxes, one for each hand.
Some cover their ears and try to shut out Franklin’s music, others gather around to take pictures.
Since arriving in Buffalo this fall, Franklin made a name for himself on campus as “Boombox Guy.” Every day, Franklin leaves his headphones at home and instead opts to play music aloud on his speakers. His unparalleled volume, coupled with his playlist composed of music from artists like Tupac Shakur, The Weeknd and Travis Scott, has made Franklin stand out and slowly turn into a campus icon. Franklin, the subject of many memes (particularly those found on UB’s subreddit) recently had the bull outside SU decorated in his honor. While he is known by most, the campus is divided between Franklin’s fans and foes –– some feeling his music is harmless, even pleasant, and others feeling his music is obnoxious and disruptive.
He stands out on a campus –– and in an era –– where most use headphones to listen to music.
Franklin got his first speaker in high school, where he played his music in school and on the streets of Brooklyn. He added another speaker to his roster after feeling discouraged by the noise of the city occasionally overpowering his tunes. Franklin then bought his first JBL boombox before coming to UB, after saving up all summer. Now, he prefers to go by the name DJ AJ.
He said he attempts to express himself through his speakers, something he’s had trouble doing while growing up. Franklin struggles with depression and has had difficulties being himself around others. Growing up, he dealt with an abusive father and bullies in school.
“I expressed myself in a different way, and they didn’t like that,” Franklin said. “Sometimes it felt like it was me against the world.”
As a result, Franklin became anti-social.
He believes his speakers help him connect with others.
“I’m not the most social person but the speakers are speaking for me in a sense,” Franklin said. “It’s showing who I am as a person through my music taste.”
Franklin says he plays music out loud because it makes him happy.
“It’s fun for me [to carry the boombox],” Franklin said. “When I carry it around, I put smiles on faces. There are parties that happen at bus stops because of me. I’m basically bringing joy to people around me and that’s something that I always planned to do in my life.”
As Franklin has learned in the last two weeks since meme stardom, many find it amusing when they encounter him on campus.
Dheerhaj Bhatia, a freshman computer science major, enjoys Franklin’s music.
“I really like the boombox guy because he’s playing music all around, and personally I’m a music buff,” Bhatia said. “Whenever I’m on the bus I’m searching like, ‘where is this guy that’s gonna play good music.’”
Ryan Dils, a junior computer science major, also encourages Franklin to keep his music up.
“If [Franklin] can make someone’s day a little better through his speakers, then I say keep doing your thing man,” Dils said. “I’m rooting for you.”
Although some find the music entertaining, others find it disturbing. On UB’s subreddit, many memes have criticized Franklin for his volume. They insinuate that by playing music out loud, Franklin is forcing his music on others and being obnoxious.
“There are like 200 people saying ‘f––k you’ to me on Reddit,” Franklin said.
After posting a message on UB’s subreddit encouraging students to voice their opinions about Franklin in addition to interviewing students in SU, The Spectrum was unable to find anyone willing to criticize Franklin on record.
Still, many criticize Franklin anonymously on the internet.
“[It’s] obnoxious to blast your music in public places in front of people who don’t have the same tastes or don’t want to listen to loud-ass music while they’re trying to study or relax or eat or whatever,” a Reddit user wrote.
Another Reddit user agreed.
“Can he please stop? One of my biggest pet peeves is people blasting music while walking around campus,” the user wrote.
Kamya Shah, a freshman biomedical science major, understands why some people find his music disruptive, even though she enjoys the music herself.
“I see why people get annoyed,” Shah said. “Sometimes people prefer peace, so when people hear this, they tend to get annoyed. They’re like, ‘Why are you blasting tunes, let me study.’”
Franklin said he makes sure to silence his music when he feels it would be disruptive.
After talking with his RA, Franklin decided it would be best to restrict his playing time in order to avoid disturbing others. Now, Franklin only plays music in public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. when he is around residence halls. He also silences his speakers when inside public buildings, aside from SU.
“Blasting music, walking past classes: that’s not something I do,” Franklin said. “The only building that I full-on blast it [in] is the Student Union.”
Shah, who lives in Franklin’s residence hall, can confirm his schedule.
“He usually stops in the evening,” Shah said. “He doesn’t play it inside.”
Franklin said he is also flexible about his music during the day. If someone respectfully requests that Franklin quiets down, he said he adheres to it.
“If you’re respectful to me and tell me, ‘Hey AJ, can you turn this down,’ I’ll be respectful to that,” Franklin said.
Tyrese Glenn, a freshman electrical engineering major and Franklin’s roommate, says that “as long as you talk to him, he at least lowers the music down.”
Franklin intends to continue playing music despite the criticism. Soon, Franklin plans to begin DJing professionally around campus and at parties. His 314-song playlist can be found on Spotify.
“At the end of the day, as long as I’m being respectful, and as long as I’m expressing myself, then that’s what’s right to me.”
For mental health emergencies or after-hours concerns, call University Police immediately –– 716-645-2222. Other Resources: UB’s Counseling Services –– 716-645-2720 (North Campus), 716-829-5800 (South Campus). Crisis Services of Western New York’s 24/7 hotline –– 716-834-3131. Crisis Text Line –– send “GOT5” to 741-741.
Julian Roberts-Grmela is the assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @GrmelaJulian.