How Laura Stylez Went From Answering Phones to Becoming a Prominent Voice in Media

“I am first a fan of hip hop. It’s what really brought me here,” says Laura Stylez, media personality and one of the hosts of Hot 97’s long-running morning radio show Ebro in the Morning. Born in Los Angeles and raised by Guatemalan parents, Stylez says the closest thing to finding community growing up was through the kids in her neighborhood who introduced her to the music of Snoop Dogg, NWA, and Dr. Dre.

“I always wanted to be a part of the culture – the meetups, the breakdancing, the graffiti that went with it, the DJing, everything. I was like, ‘I just want to be part of it.’ It felt like home. That made me feel like I belonged to something,” she adds. Before her time in radio, Stylez says she dabbled in everything from rapping and dancing, but tuning in to radio shows with larger than life personalities like Angie Martinez and the Wake Up Show’s Carmelita ultimately changed the trajectory of her life.

“I just started looking up to and falling in love with the women on the air: the female DJs, the Spinderellas. They were so dope. Watching Salt-N-Pepa vibe with them, the breakdancers like Honey Rockwell from Rock Steady Crew. They were the she-roes that I was in love with. A lot of these women were Latina or Black. They were just a force within their own.”

At 18 years old, Stylez packed her bags and moved to New York City, landing a job answering phones for a local radio station. Now, with over 20 years in the industry under her belt, the trendsetter and trailblazer has worked on-air for La Calle 105.9 and Sirius XM as a producer and is one of the co-founders of ENVSN Festival, an annual NYC-based community gathering focused on mentorship and the personal development of the next generation of POC creators of culture and entrepreneurs. We talked to Stylez about loving your craft, selling out Madison Square Garden ahead of the early 2000s reggaeton boom, and being a Major Mujer nurturing the next generation of women of color looking to pursue their path in radio and media.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When was that one moment or turning point where you felt like you were in the right space? That moment where you were like ‘Alright, this was the right decision.’

I’ve had a couple of those at different stages of my life. I remember being young and working for a Latin station. At the time, we had the whole reggaeton boom, and I got a job doing midday at a station. I was my first on-air show by myself and I just remember meeting all these brand new reggaeton artists that were just being introduced to the US market, like De la Ghetto and Ivy Queen. I had a moment where I was like “Wow, we’re really doing this together. We’re both here, both new.” I had a moment where I hosted one of my first concerts at Madison Square Garden on a 360 stage because reggaeton sold that shit out and it was when people didn’t believe in it. I remember being up there with Calle 13, with Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, all the big dogs, and them killing it. Moments like that, I felt like I had arrived, but I’ve had so many. 

Beyonce recorded a Spanish version of an album she had at the time, and I have a picture of her and me when she came in to see me. At the time, they were like “You’re the only one who can interview her,” and I was like “Whoa, I can’t believe it! They’re thinking about me.” My first time being at Radio City Music Hall is another…all these iconic moments in my life. My first time being in a magazine. I remember my mom didn’t understand what I did for a living for a long time. Vibe Magazine used to have a section where they had pictures of celebrities and people at parties, at events. It’s like a collage of all these different people in the back, and there was a picture of me with Nina Sky, and then my mom was like “Oh my god! You’re in a magazine!” She was freaking out! Mind you, I already had done mad red-carpet events, and I was like “Mom, yes!” She was so happy.

Even last year, celebrating Hip Hop 50 with Mass Appeal, being able to hit the stage at Yankee Stadium with my team and introducing Ice Cube and Snoop [Dogg]. I’ve had a lot of these moments throughout my career. It’s mindblowing for me still. 

So much of it goes back to being a fan. You went from growing up with West Coast hip hop and are actually there in a room with Snoop and Ice Cube.

I’m still just very much a fan and very happy to be here.

We often see people advancing or making big moves that they post about on social media, but it’s rare that we hear about people’s struggles and you’ve been open on air. Why is that important to you?

Being able to be honest about my struggles and dealing with heavy, real-life situations that I could have kept to myself but decided to open up about, being able to speak freely, humanizes the whole thing.

Being so vulnerable on air about the birth of my daughter and my journey. I remember also sharing about when my dad passed away, me being vulnerable and opening up about that, and me talking about his mental health struggles and how they affected me and things like that. At first, I was like, “Maybe this is not something I want to share.” But then I was like, “Fuck it.” It’s important for people to know we’re not alone.

Another thing that I was very open about too was postpartum depression, which hit me hard. It was a very dark time for me. Being able to even talk about it and say, “This is what I’m going through,” was another point in my life that was very honest and real. I had moments where I had strangers reach out to me via social media with beautiful messages about similar situations they were going through. Yet, I had family who said, “Oh, we don’t have time for that. We need to be strong and raise these kids.” It’s our job to break these cycles, these generational curses of ours that our parents didn’t always necessarily mean to do.

Are there any mentors or women who have inspired you and helped you to reach where you are now?

The very first person who gave me a shot: Kwazi Hewlett. He’s a producer who opened my first door in radio.

Once I got to work, Monie Love took me under her wing and was a beautiful example of what it is to be a working woman in the field. I saw Monie Love, not only with her family, but I watched that woman breastfeed while on the air, editing phone calls, and playing music with her babies. I would help her set up her kid on a computer to do their homework while she was working. That’s truly what it was to be a working mother. It was such a beautiful example for me. I would look at her like, “First of all, not only are you a hip-hop legend. But wow, look at you!” 

Once I started working with Angie Martinez, she treated me like an equal. She never made me feel less than. Usually, she would only let celebrities fill in for her whenever she would take off, and then one day, she was like, “You got it.” I remember looking at her like she was crazy, and she started letting me fill in for her show. 

What’s one of the biggest hardships you’ve faced as a woman or as a Latina in the music industry and as someone in your field?

I’ve been through it all. Recently, I participated in a panel at NYU, and sometimes, you compartmentalize. You hide these things in little boxes in your head, certain feelings. I talked about how I went through sexual harassment. I know what it is to be sexually harassed and having to quit a job because you didn’t want to deal with it instead of being able to speak up about it. 

I was like, “I don’t want to be blackballed in this industry. I just got here. I don’t want to be labeled as the problem.” So I remember quietly quitting and how shitty that feeling was. 

Also, I’ll keep it at 1000 with you. In my career, Latino outlets did not embrace me. Black women uplifted me throughout my career. Black journalists and outlets are the ones who uplifted me, accepted me, and invited me. I was just never really embraced. I’m a little older. You have to check certain boxes. I always thought it was really interesting because, throughout my career, Black media has always embraced me – the Ebony magazines and the Vibes. That’s one thing that really was an obstacle for me as a Latina woman. It was a tough pill to swallow. 

Yeah, I don’t know if it’s rejection or not accepting but it’s really frustrating. We should be the first people advocating for each other in a lot of these situations, people really aren’t.

One thing that’s been important in my career is to advocate for all women. I remember asking certain people why they didn’t have Afro-Latinas. There’s Black Guatemalans. There are Black Mexicans. There’s Black Hondurenos and everyone in between. Why don’t you show the different sides of Latinidad? This generation and right now, people are more proud of who they are, and they’re changing that, which makes me really proud.

One thing that’s been important in my career is to advocate for all women.

What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?

I love planting seeds and nurturing the youth and the next generation. I am co-founder of a festival called ENVSN Festival. My partner and one of my best friends, Sharifa Murdock, is a powerhouse in the fashion trade show industry. One day, Sharifa said, “I want to do a festival.” Sharifa and I were tired of being the token woman on panels; whether it was this con or this, it was always me and her: token Black woman, token Latina. We came up with ENVSN Festival and have been doing it for four years. It’s a young women’s empowerment expo. We tap into big brands to come in and activate, and everything is focused on young girls. We have dynamic women who are powerhouses within their space, from publicists to artists, women in fashion, and editors, to come in and do mentoring sessions and panels. All education-based but fun.

[Also,] waking up every day and doing my show makes me happy. I really enjoy the team that I work with. We’re very blessed to still have this job that allows us to be unapologetically who we are, the good and the bad. I also use our show to not only interview all the prominent artists, actors, and comedians but also to empower community leaders as dynamic people who are doing amazing things in their community. 

We’re seeing more and more women artists and creatives talking about how their work went unprotected and people talking about how their trust was abused. Is this something that you’ve seen or experienced firsthand? What’s your perspective on this?

There are so many artists who need to take the time to educate themselves on the business of music. That’s how they get ripped off. They need help understanding what it is to get an entertainment lawyer. Get proper representation and know that you can’t just sign any contract that gets shoved in front of you. Don’t let anybody pressure you to sign anything until you are a hundred percent comfortable and fully understand what you’re doing. 

I had my first contract and took it to a lawyer, who said, “Yeah, this is standard.” But he wouldn’t answer my questions. He was talking down to me instead of sitting down and explaining it to me. I remember taking that contract, paying him whatever his fee was, and saying I could get a second opinion. I went and got a different lawyer who came in, sat down with me, and said, “This can change, this can change.” And at the end of the day, I ended up getting a better deal because of him. I can’t stress that enough. People need to educate themselves in the creative field they want to be in. I’ve seen way too many artists fall victim to a bad deal because they get so excited about signing to a major label without truly understanding what that means.

What do you think is something that can be done in the music industry to make it more safe and more collective for women?

We need to get more women in these jobs, in these positions of power, and I do feel that it is happening. People are tolerating less bullshit, specifically women. It’s a special time because the things that I grew up seeing, circling back to my time as a young girl, being sexually harassed, that’s not going to fly anymore. When there are huge cases from Harvey Weinstein to Diddy, you hear all these stories. People did not want to talk about it [back then]. It was like out of sight, out of mind. It’s less taboo now. Women can speak up about their experiences.

I remember I didn’t speak about my sexual harassment until recently. I remember discussing with somebody who asked, “But why did it take ten years?” At that time, I wasn’t protected. No one would believe me. It was my word against that person, and straight up, the people who cared about me cared enough to help me exit the building as if it was an at-will thing instead of addressing the problem. 

People are tolerating less bullshit, specifically women.

But it’s not just men; women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel mentality — “If I can’t have it, neither can you” — is harmful to women?

It absolutely does exist. You just going to have to figure out how to navigate it. Plenty of people are gunning for me to get fired one day, but I just keep the mentality of “What’s meant for me will be.” I’ve gone through many auditions where I didn’t get the part, but it’s okay. Most of the time, I’ll walk away with, “You know what, that was a cool experience.” You have to. It’s part of survival. Bitterness will kill you. It’ll bring nothing but acid reflux, girl. When I have my girls who are like, “Hey, I need some advice. This is how to feel.” I’m like, “Don’t sweat it, man. Do not sweat it. There’s enough work for all of us out here.”

What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space?

This girl stopped me one time, and she was like, “Oh my god, Laura. I just found out you were Guatemalan. Thank you for representing us in a positive way. Nobody cares about Guatemalan girls.” And that shit stuck with me. Representation is important, and now more than ever.

I want to see more women in my field. I want to see more producers. I want to see more engineers. I’m not talking about just posing in front of a camera for the socials. I mean women who truly love their craft. I want girls to look at producers like Trak Girl and see that there are incredible women behind those boards. They are powerful positions.

I’m sure so many girls are just interested, and they just write themselves off because they don’t have access to it. I always want women, period, in these positions because it’s such a beautiful thing just to see them just kicking ass, man. It’s so dope. Study your craft, man. Study the business of it. Study it to truly understand where you’re coming from, which will shape you to where you’re going.