After just five weeks of the semester, Dr. Aaron X. Smith is already one of Temple’s more well-known professors.
Smith, an assistant professor of African American studies, recently went viral after his students filmed him rapping about Temple in class one morning and posted the video to YouTube.
“The energy was really low one morning,” Smith told The Temple News. “Like, after the first few weeks, everybody on campus seemed really dead inside, including the kids in my morning class, so I kind of wanted to wake them up and get them excited.”
In the video, Smith is singing to the tune of Big Sean’s “One Man Can Change The World,” changing a set of the lyrics to, “Owls were made to soar.”
Smith holds four degrees from Temple: a Bachelor of Arts in Asian studies, a master’s degree in liberal arts and both a master’s and Ph.D. in African American studies.
Smith acknowledged the rarity of a professor rapping in the classroom.
“I joke with other students about it,” Smith said. “Like, I went here, I know other classes aren’t playing music and referencing rap, don’t pretend.”
One of Smith’s students, Sakima Young, said Smith’s now-viral rap occurred when his “Representing Race” class didn’t believe Smith was a rapper.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, I rap,’ and we didn’t believe him,” said Young, a media studies and production major. “We were like, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever you say,’ and then he started.”
Before Smith became a professor at Temple, he was a rapper and radio personality who met the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z, and even opened for Kevin Hart at a comedy show.
“I fell in love with hip-hop when I was really young,” Smith said. “And so I took to rapping a lot.”
Smith said he’s “really into Chance the Rapper and Drake-type beats,” and is also a big fan of Meek Mill.
Smith said he couldn’t think of a better time for hip-hop to play a bigger role within the campus community.
“Aside from being complex in a musical sense, it touches on a lot of complex political and social issues,” he said. “Plus, every demographic, every group, no matter where you come from—I can’t think of any other genre that reaches a larger and more diverse group of people.”
Smith said his Temple education totally altered the course of his life, especially after meeting and working with Molefi Kete Asante, the chair of the African American studies department.
“He really inspired me, and just learning about all these new things I’d never heard about in school or growing up was a big catalyst for me,” Smith said. “It made me want to inspire other students.”
In addition to “Representing Race,” Smith currently teaches “Sports and Leisure” and “Black Politics in America” courses. He’s also set to teach “Black Social Political Thought” and a class about rapper Tupac this spring.
Smith said he is confident, despite what some of his older colleagues may think.
“I don’t think they get it,” Smith said. “To them, I’m a child.”
With that in mind, Smith said he plans to be here for the long haul.
“I absolutely love it here,” Smith said. “I completely rep Temple, I’m so proud of this school—the students, the teachers, the people who live and work around us—we could compete with the world and we could win.”
Courtney Redmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.