Is Young Fearless the coolest professor at Temple?
Dr. Aaron X. Smith may be the coolest professor you’ve ever had
Is your professor a YouTube sensation? If you have a class taught by Dr. Aaron X. Smith, a professor of African American studies, he is.
“I started rapping after completely falling in love with Hip-Hop at a very young age” said Smith, also known by the alias Young Fearless.
Before Smith became a professor of African American Studies at Temple University, he was a student and active contributor in the Philly underground hip hop scene.
He says his inspiration came from artists such as Rakim, Nas, and Tupac. His musical career and love for lyricism has lead him to meeting such rap giants as Jay-Z and Kanye West while he worked on the Michael Shawn and the Take Over Legends Night Show on Boom 107.9 and even opening for Kevin Hart.
The Tab sat down with Young Fearless to get an inside look on his double life as a professor and absolute legend. He even did an exclusive freestlye for us.
You represent this city in both your teaching and rap careers. Is Philly your hometown?
No, I’m originally from Montclair, NJ, but I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. It’s weird that way because Philly has become my home to a higher extent.
When did you start working for Temple as a Professor of African American Studies?
This year. I was a TA and an adjunct faculty member. I graduated just last May.
So, what classes do you teach now?
Right now, I’m teaching Sports and Leisure, Black Politics in America, and I’m teaching Representing Race, the course where the video was taken from. However, I teach a course about 2Pac and Black Social Political Thought in the spring that many students were inquiring about. Last year, the course was popular amongst students. Temple is bringing it back this year.
What do you think your students think about?
I think they appreciate the passion and honesty about my lectures, as well as the structure of the lectures and their contemporary relevance. I mean, as the video displayed, the incorporation of things that go on in pop culture every day is a big part of what I teach because it makes abstract concepts, especially in history, seem more relatable. A big example of this is in the videos because while I ask questions about different topics and historical figures on a regular basis, usually 2 to 6 people know about the historical content of such events and people. However, when I asked the class if they knew of Big Sean, 100% of the class raised their hand. For me not to use pop culture as a way to connect to students even in general would seem counterproductive.
So, your students are active within the class discussions?
Yes, we have really good discussions. They range in all sorts of topics. But, I also lead passionate discussions about race, which doesn’t typically get discussed in everyday conversations, not at the level that we have at the university in the classes I teach. It’s a rare opportunity for people to be in diverse and mixed company, but also to have such candid conversations about a topic like race.
Is that what you mean by “every time I give a lecture, I be turning up the heat”?
Oh, that’s funny. I think that the shifting of the paradigm: the traditional narrative, takes a certain degree of passion. You not only have to connect with the students, but you also have to go against this existing ideology based on non-factual information and over-exaggerated stereotypes. It’s a concentration on a reality that many people are not fully aware of.
Sounds like you have a good relationship with Temple. What about Temple makes you have a sense of pride in it?
I’ve lived here for most of my life, longer than I lived in New Jersey. I graduated from Temple 4 times. First, Asian Studies as an Undergraduate, then I got a Masters in Liberal Arts, then under the guidance of the current Chair of Department now, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, I pursued a PhD after I got a Masters in African American Studies. Just learning all of these new things I never heard in school or growing up really changed me to inspire other students. I really do love this place, and I mean it when I rep Temple. I think we’re the best.
So, moving into your career as a rapper, how did you get started as Young Fearless.
I got into freestyle rapping in the mid-90s. My friends and I would attend battles at the University of Pennsylvania every 3 or 4 times per semester. I was actually the defending champion at UPenn as a Temple student. That was one of the main things I was doing up until 2002.
In your raps, you have a catchphrase “Ch-cheya”
When I first came into radio, people always had a signature catchphrase to them. Big James, who let me open up for Kevin Hart when he was on campus in 1999, also was the reason I got to meet Michael Shawn. His signature was “Okaaaaayyyyyyyyy”. So I asked Mike Shawn if I become famous, I’m going to need a signature too; what should it be? We just came up with “Ch-cheya” over time.
So, being a refining artist, how do you view Meek Mill and Philly’s underground hip-hop scene?
Meek Mill is one of the greatest. Drake is cool, but I really took in what Meek said about Drake having a ghostwriter. I also learned a lot from other Philly rappers such as Sandman and Young Savage when I was working at the radio station. The Philly underground scene is one of the most vibrant and competitive even today. You really have to be better at rapping than most people in other areas to really be considered respectable amongst the other artists in this area.
As a rapper, do you work with any other producers or performers?
Yes. There’s a guy named “Kenny Dinero $” who is the hottest producer in Philly right now. I’ve worked with him before and I do believe that he’s going to be one of the more famous producers down the road.
Do you do any freestyling nowadays?
Not as much. The scene is different now and it really changed after 8 Mile came out. It’s more focused on dissing your opponent instead of how well you rock the party, and 8 Mile was responsible for that by bringing that specific type of battle rap to the mainstream, so much so that it became the norm. However, I do still freestyle on the spot. That hasn’t gone away much.