If you're a hip-hop head in South Florida, you know Felisha Monet. She's holdin' you down on your drive at 5, delivering the hits you want to hear on 99.1 FM. She hooks you up with free tickets and requests, and she always has the right song to get you through the hard times or celebrate the good.
She's the plug, a friend on the other side, your connection to Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. She's also making serious moves. The Source named her the 30th-best disc jockey in the game in 2015. She's doing big things, but part of what makes her so lovable is that, really, she's just that girl Felisha.
"I'm a listener too," she says. "I am somebody who's out here working, chasing a dream just like everybody else. I want to be that platform where it's not about, 'Oh, I'm cool. I get into the clubs for free or so-and-so knows me.' It's about having the people, the audience, the listeners feel like I'm bringing them into a world that they feel is so far away."
Since she was a kid in New York City, she knew radio was her calling. Hot 97, NYC's legendary station, was her window to the world, the larger-than-life personalities of Angie Martinez and Ed Lover her inspiration.
"I wanted to be a part of the culture in a real major way and at least leave my impact," she remembers. "I figured, since I like to talk a lot, and I was always getting reprimanded in school for talking too much, how about I just be a professional talker?"
She went to college in Connecticut and majored in communications before moving back to New York. A good friend talked her into continuing her education at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She moved sight unseen and soon found a job at a local radio station. She didn't technically graduate, but working in the communication hub of the state's capital introduced her to the movers and shakers of the region. When she became pregnant in 2006, she moved her family to South Florida and stepped out of the game to figure out her new role as a mother. She sorely missed radio, but she took motherhood seriously.
"To be honest, I kind of gave up on [radio]," she says. "I thought it was something that only happened in Tallahassee. Maybe it was just for that moment, and now I'm an adult. I have to be a grown up and get a real job, leave that industry and the music world alone."
Two years later, she got a call. It was her son's second birthday, and she had just gotten home with a Publix bakery cake when she heard her old buddy DJ Griot on the other end. He'd been one of the industry insiders who'd welcomed her in Tallahassee, and he was back at 99 Jamz after a tour with Trina.
"I've always considered [Griot] a mentor, a big brother in the game," Monet says. "He would always say, 'Give me some time. I'm bringing you on.' A year and a half later, he kept his word."
Two months later, she drove to the station for her first day back on the air. It was Memorial Day weekend.
"I pulled into the parking lot, I sat in my car, and I just looked at that sign: WEDR 99 Jamz," she remembers. "I had tears in my eyes, because WEDR is such a staple. It's a heritage urban station here in the market, and I'm not from Miami, but to be accepted and to be welcomed and have an opportunity to connect with the listeners on such a huge superbrand was just unbelievable to me."
At the time Monet started at 99 Jamz, both DJ Khaled and DJ Irie were working there. Every hip-hop giant passing through South Florida stopped by the studio. They were her peers, her teachers, and her friends. She felt like she'd gone from swimming in a little lake to an ocean.
Monet's affable attitude, big personality, and professional demeanor helped her rise through the radio ranks rather quickly. She started on the not-so-glamorous 2-to-6 a.m. slot and moved up to the 11 p.m.-to-2 a.m. clubland hours. Her big break came when DJ Khaled left the station to focus on his music career, leaving a gaping space for Monet to fill.
"Khaled has been doing the night show for 10-plus years," she says. "That's a big voice, big shoes, big clothes, all of it, right? It's just Khaled, a humongous brand, and I remember being — I don't want to say nervous — but it was like, This is my time. It's sink or swim — what are you going to do?"
Monet swam like Michael Phelps, earning the gold for herself and the station managers. Soon she was promoted to the afternoon drive, and that's where fans can hear her today.
"I have fun. I love what I do," she says. "I don't view this as work... I get excited when people call. I answer all my calls. Sometimes I have conversations that don't go on-air."
Watching her work is like watching an artist lose herself in the moment. She stands up to the mike, not because she has to, but because it feels right. She closes her eyes and lets a stream of swaggy consciousness loose from her lips, smooth like a fine Merlot. Her friends describe it as a split personality. It doesn't matter what's happening in her life, whether she's sick or sad or angry. When she puts on those headphones and stands behind that mike, she's in her zone. She exudes a friendliness that makes listeners feel like they know her.
But being a boss woman in a boys' club can be tough sometimes. Monet knows this very well, though she won't let anything stand in the way of her dream.
"Do I know that men in certain positions will get more money than me? Of course," she says. "I know that when it's time for me to collect a check or follow up with somebody that has my money and I'm firm, I'm [called] a bitch — but that's OK. I'll be a bitch in this game that is well respected and about her money."
The respect is coming, as are the accolades. Being named in the Source is a pretty big deal. In 2016, she's concentrating on expanding her media empire and working hard to do more TV appearances and onscreen interviews. It shouldn't be too hard. To hear Felisha Monet is to love her. To see her in person only intensifies that feeling.
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"She brings energy," says the station's program director, Jill Strada. "She brings Miami to the station. 99 Jamz is just such a [part of South Florida's cultural fabric], and Felisha represents that really well."
When she's not in the studio, hyping crowds at clubs, or raising her son, Monet likes to help the greater South Florida community. She does a lot of work with the Susan B. Anthony Recovery House, speaking with women overcoming addiction and other ailments, sharing her perspective, and being a positive influence. It's not all that different from what she does on-air.
"It's always like that deeper meaning," she says, "touching people, letting people know to follow your passion, follow your dreams. There's not just one way to get something done. Just don't give up."