Artist Features, Mixes, News

Will You Be My Papi Valentine?

Ahead of the highly anticipated Valentine’s Day Papi Juice party on Saturday, February 16, Oscar Nñ sat down with PopGun to discuss his Honduran roots, his lifelong passion for music, and how a mutual desire among friends to create a welcoming space of joy, freedom of expression, and inclusivity blossomed into one of the most beloved gatherings in New York City’s nightlife and beyond.

Peep his exclusive Elsewhere mix below.

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Oscar Nñ at La Perla Del Ulua on February 1, 2019 (Photo: Renee Rodriguez) 

I remember being nine or 10 and all I wanted was a discman,” Oscar Nuñez told me over lunch inside La Perla del Ulua, an unassuming and delicious Honduran eatery located on the corner of Melrose and Knickerbocker in Bushwick.

Outside, it was 19 degrees. New York City had just endured single-digit weather earlier in the week and we both agreed on the sopa de res (beef soup)—comfort food from our shared homeland—to help warm our bodies as he peeled back the layers of his life for the next three hours.

“That’s what I would ask for at Christmas and for my birthday and I remember my parents bought it for me as a joint present,” he said. “It was the thing that I loved the most and I would listen to the same songs over and over again because I only had like two CDs.”

One of those, Selena’s Amor Prohibido, was the first CD he ever bought.

She has stayed with me since.”

For Oscar, better known as Oscar Nñ these days—co-founder, resident DJ and host of the wildly successful nightlife series Papi Juice—discovering and sharing music has been a constant source of joy throughout his life.

Born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Oscar was raised in the Las Colinas and later the hilly neighborhood of Lomas del Guijarro. It was here among the winding roads of the capital’s landscape where his varied taste in music began to develop. From Nirvana, Soda Estereo and Los Héroes del Silencio to early Shakira releases, his prized Selena CD and reggaeton—or “playero” as Hondurans call it—his musical preferences have always existed across a wide spectrum.  

For me, music has always been this journey of discovery, of finding new things, listening to different sounds,” he said. “I like to think of it as trying new foods. I always love to try new foods so I love to listen to new music and figure out how to play it. That’s always been something that’s really important, to be open and flexible to different sounds.”

This path of exploration continued after relocating with his family to Washington DC at age 9 in 1997.

Oscar first noticed his ability to bring people together through music while planning his birthday party in seventh grade. 

“I got these really fancy, flashy invitation cards that I was handing out to people at school,” he recalled with a nostalgic chuckle. “I had 33 invitations and I was hand-selecting people to come. I remember I hired a DJ because I felt like I couldn’t do it back then. That party was so lit and it was the first time [we] freak-danced. It was the first time people grinded and it was a really big deal.” 

After that, his friends would always ask him for mixed CDs. This followed him all the way to Pratt University. While working on his master’s, Oscar hosted his own radio show with each episode focusing on a different theme.  

“I was obsessed with it,” he shared. “It was my favorite thing, more than my classes [laughs].” 

Today, one might hear everything from Spandau Ballet to Chimbala to t.A.T.u in one of Oscar’s sets. Rather than focus on labeling or defining his sound, he prefers for listeners to keep an open mind.

“People always ask me ‘So what kind of music do you play?’ and I say, ‘I play club music,'” he said with a laugh. “I play music that people want to dance to whether it’s house or reggaeton or hip-hop or samba—anything with a heavy bass and drums to shake your hips to [laughs].”


 

It’s no surprise, then, that all of this culminated into what is now known as Papi Juice.

Along with partners Mohammed Fayaz and Adam Rhodes, Oscar is one of the faces behind the insanely popular Brooklyn-based dance party and kiki aimed at celebrating queer and trans people of color and their allies. Since 2013, the trio has worked together to bring to life their vision of a safe gathering place where inclusivity, music, art, and culture not only intersect, but thrive as well. After hosting their party at a slew of different venues, Papi Juice ultimately landed an ongoing residency with Elsewhere in March 2018.  

Part circumstance, part fate, their story began unfolding several years earlier through social media.

“Mohammed, Adam, and I met on Tumblr,” Oscar said, a smile spreading across his face as he remembered the earlier days. “At the time, Tumblr was really big and we were big on Tumblr.” 

When Oscar moved from Maryland to New York City, the trio began forging a friendship offline until an otherwise normal Thursday afternoon six years ago helped plant the early seeds for Papi Juice. While gallery hopping in Chelsea with Adam, Oscar began thinking of how often they felt a lack of inclusion in the art spaces they were used to frequenting.

 “We felt alienated and invisible in these spaces,” he said, noting there was “a lack of representation of not only black and brown people, but also queer people as well.” 

Intrigued and excited by the prospect of creating their own space, Adam and Oscar took their idea to the now-shuttered One Last Shag bar in Bed-Stuy.

“We were friends with the bar manager there and he came over to Adam and I with a shot of tequila,” Oscar recalled. “After the shot, we said, ‘We should throw our party here’ and the bar manager was like ‘You’re on. What are you doing next week?’” 

With just a few days to pull it off, Adam and Oscar immediately began brainstorming ideas to name their party. 

“We knew we wanted something that was sort of Caribbean,” he said. “Definitely for me, I wanted something that sounded a little Latinx or Spanish. We were throwing around words like ‘papi’ and ‘juicy’ and it ended up just becoming Papi Juice.” 

The following week, Papi Juice: Volume One came to life during Pride weekend.

Papi Juice revelers at Elsewhere. (Photo: Luis Nieto Dickens)

Almost overnight, they knew they had something special on their hands. In addition to their homegrown network of local friends, Tumblr also proved to be highly influential in spreading their movement.

We each had our own Tumblr community and that’s how this party grew,” he said. “We drew a lot of our aesthetic and music choices from there and we had a pretty active community. People all over the world saw us having this party and they were excited to share with their friends and share the imagery that we were making for it and the photos that were being taken there.”

By their second party, however, they faced a sobering reminder of the need for safe spaces. It was the same day a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman on all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black teenager whose premature death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the backyard of One Last Shag, Oscar and fellow partygoers gathered to commiserate on what it meant to be black and brown in the United States.

I find that as long as white supremacy is there, [our] space will always be there,” said Oscar. “As long as white supremacy and patriarchy are ruling, the need for the space is always going to be there.”

From the rise of drag ball culture during the Harlem Renaissance to godfather of house music Frankie Knuckles’ reign at Chicago’s Warehouse to the community Larry Levan helped foster for queer people of color at Manhattan’s nightlife mecca Paradise Garage, it’s not lost on Oscar, Adam and Mohammed that these spaces and the need for them have existed long before Papi Juice.

“These kinds of spaces have always existed, but it’s just until now that we have the language to fully articulate what they are or try to label it,” said Oscar. “Even though currently the sociopolitical climate is heavy and makes the need and want for a space like this perhaps a little bit more accentuated, our space has existed for a long time because the sociopolitical climate for queer and trans people of color has always been difficult. I feel like that’s what my vision is for the spaces that we’re creating—to make a space that’s accessible to everyone in our queer and trans communities.”   

For many in marginalized communities, identity and politics are indelibly tethered to one another. Their mere existence and survival in a world divided by systemic and structural oppression is considered a political act.

With that in mind, Oscar also hopes Papi Juice serves as a brief window of time for partygoers to let go and feel safe in expressing themselves, regardless of what awaits beyond the exit doors when the lights come on at the end of the night. In this space, they are free.  

For me, it’s really difficult to prescribe a role to the party itself because it’s supposed to be this freeing experience for people,” Oscar explained. “I want people to come into the space and utilize it to make it their own and to discover their own freedom or what it looks like for them to be free. The space is the way it is because it molds itself to different ways that people can experience freedom, whether it’s through dance, through community, through friendship, through love, through art. I find that the work we’re doing can blend itself into all of these different experiences and feelings that people have.” 

And it’s working. 

Back in September 2018, Papi Juice made their Boiler Room debut on Elsewhere’s stage with NY-based DJ and model Br0nz3_g0dd3ss (aka Maya Monès) on hosting duties. While Oscar blared Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” over the club speakers during his set, there was a moment when Maya grabbed the mic and playfully asked “Papi Juice, where have you been all my life?”

 It’s likely many in the community who attend Papi Juice share the same sentiment, especially those who have struggled to find a welcoming space to freely be themselves. Oscar and his partners are acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with being at the helm of fostering this kind of environment.  

“It’s terrifying,” Oscar laughed after a brief pause to reflect. “Sometimes I feel like I’m prescribing people something, but what if it’s not the thing that solves their need or eases their feeling? At the same time, it feels awesome and I’m so excited that people are noticing and people come and are grateful for the space and that they’re so happy when they’re there. It’s also a sounding board of happiness. The audience is really happy and everyone at Elsewhere is really happy. I feel like the whole room is feeding each other this feeling of joy and celebration. It starts with the people at the door, the bartenders, the security guards inside and goes all the way to the artists we’re booking. Seeing our community grow from Baby’s All Right into Elsewhere and fitting in like a glove in the space [has been] really special starting from that night back in March of 2018.” 

Adam R, Mohammed, Oscar are Papi Juice. (Photo: Lanee Bird)

Six years, a few venue changes, and dozens of parties under their belts later, a packed room is still a humbling experience for the Papi Juice crew.

“To this day, I’m always nervous that nobody is going to show up,” he said. “10 PM comes along and then 10:30 and I’m like ‘Nobody is coming,’ but then by 11, it’s packed [laughs]. I don’t know what it is honestly. I’m gagged every time. It’s always really exciting. Sometimes I look at the room during the party and I’m like ‘Oh my god, this is happening.’ There are all these people for a vision that I’ve created with my friends. That’s what’s so great about Mohammed and Adam and I. We have this collective vision for what we want to create. Obviously, we’re three people with different ideas so we’re not always going to agree, but we’re able to work through disagreements if it means we’re building something together.”

[Editor’s note: The Valentine’s Day show sold out before this story published]

As POC in the LGBTQ community, representation is at the core of their mission. For Oscar, this is especially rooted in his heritage.

It doesn’t take a music expert to tell you Latin American music is once again dominating mainstream charts. While we’ve seen this craze before—most recently in the early aughts—streaming platforms have undeniably played a role in amplifying its current reign across the globe. Even as names like J Balvin, Tainy, Becky G, Ozuna, Cardi B, and, of course, Bad Bunny, become household names and countless think-pieces on their influence flow in steady rotation, there are plenty more underground DJs and producers working just as hard to carve their own path—and people are taking notice.  

Back in August 2017, for example, Boiler Room presented their first ever reggaeton showcase featuring Apocalipsis label boss and Discwoman signee Riobamba, an NYC-based Ecuadorian/Lithuanian DJ who most recently brought Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” to techno mecca Berghain and, days later, provided the soundtrack for Chromat’s A/W19 runway show. Along with pioneering reggaeton figure DJ Playero, Mexico’s Rosa Pistola and fellow NYC-based DJ Bembona, Oscar took center stage and repped his native country with pride for millions of Boiler Room viewers around the world.

Nestled in the heart of Central America between Nicaragua and Guatemala, and resting just above El Salvador, Honduras is a small country of roughly 8 million people—the same as NYC’s five boroughs combined. Opposite coastlines are met with waves from both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea and its people are spread out amongst 18 departments.  

Despite its prime location, Honduras is often overlooked when discussing cultural contributions from Latin America. Through his work with Papi Juice, Oscar hopes to change that.  

“I think my experience growing up Honduran has shaped a lot of what my DJ sets feel like which is an amalgam of different things,” he said. “That’s why I have the Honduran flag in my bio on Instagram and I always tell people I’m Honduran because it’s really important for me to say that. There aren’t many of us [represented] in culture or music especially. I’ve always wondered why that was because our history is so rich. A lot of countries in Central and South America have such a rich history of people and culture that is extremely fascinating and I’ve always wondered why Hondurans aren’t at the forefront of much. For me to talk about that, especially being queer and being Honduran, I think it could be really meaningful [for other Hispanics] to see me out there even if they’re not Honduran. If they’re Salvadoreño, Guatemalteco, Nicaragüense, even Caribeños—all my Central American people, we’re here together. There’s so many different things that we have and that we can bring to Latin culture that sometimes feels like it’s either forgotten or not mentioned.”

As an Afro-Latino, Oscar also hopes to alter the conversation within his own culture.

“In Latin America and in Honduras, colorism is so real and negating our blackness is so common in a lot of Honduran families and in Honduran culture in general,” he said. “What that means and talking about it openly is something I’m excited to keep thinking about, to challenge the status quo in Latin culture. Not all of us look like the idea of what Latinos look like. We’re not all like Ricky Martin, we’re not all like Shakira or J Lo [laughs].” 

(Photo: Renee Rodriguez)

If 2019 is any indication of where Oscar and his Papi partners are headed, the future is glowing.  

In recent months, the trio wrapped 2018 with a trip to Hawaii where they hosted a signature party with locals before returning to NYC and announcing a campaign with Warby Parker. The day before we sat down for lunch, Papi Juice officially became an LLC, signaling more opportunities and partnerships in the near future. 

“More art, more work” is the focus for the year ahead, according to Oscar. “Recently, I’ve become a full-time Papi so I’m really excited about that. I quit my full-time job to pursue this and music and art. I’m really excited to see what that looks like for me and moving from just nightlife spaces to challenging the art world a little bit. Thinking about how Mohammed, Adam and I can really function as a true art collective and create work that expands from nightlife is something that we’re really interested in. This year, you’ll probably see us working on unexpected projects which is really exciting.”

His recent professional transition was a significant moment for his family as well.  

“I was so scared to tell [my parents],” he said. “I was so shocked to hear my mom say this, but she was like ‘I can’t believe that you are able to do this, to live out your dream and be okay and that makes me really proud.’ I never thought I would hear my mom say that because both my parents are super career-driven. My mom has been working since she’s 15 and so has my dad. I couldn’t believe that they were supportive of it.”  

As for bringing Papi Juice to dominate other stages in different corners of the world, Oscar, Adam, and Mohammed are ready for whatever comes.  

“That’s my big takeaway for 2019 so far—be open to explore, to experience, to different opportunities, to discomfort,” he said. “I just want to keep thinking about doing stuff with people who are local in a scene and bringing that Papi Juice vibe around the world. I’m so ready. I got my passport updated and I’m ready for the tour [laughs].” 

Most importantly, he’s focused on expanding Papi Juice with the same care and love as always.  

“This space that I’m making is literally something I’ve dreamed of because I never saw it for myself,” he said. “I’m not going to deny the work that everyone has put before us, but for a really long time, I was dreaming about the spaces that we’re creating and being in charge of the vision and the intention of the space. That’s my baby.”

 

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After lunch, Oscar answered a quick round of questions about favorite stand-out artists and songs.

For your next party, you have CFDA winner Telfar Clemens on board. Was he someone you guys knew before?

“Telfar and Adam go way back because they grew up in the nightlife scene in New York. Adam has been going out for a really long time. When I moved to New York, I started going out immediately. My whole life, I’ve always loved a good party [laughs]. Telfar has sort of been in our fam for a really long time and this just happens to be the first time that we’re able to make something work together which is really exciting. Booking somebody like Asmara is extremely meaningful for me. That’s been a dream of mine. I joke around that I started Papi to book Asmara [laughs]. I always dreamed of booking someone amazing like her so I’m extremely honored to share the stage with her.” 

Go-to party song?

“I have so many, I feel. It also depends on what I’m listening to at the time. That t.A.T.u x Gasolina remix that I played for Boiler Room is a really big hit a lot of the time. I love playing “Rakata” [by Wisin y Yandel] a lot, too. Surprisingly, people love that song as well even if they don’t speak Spanish which is kind of cool [laughs].”

First song(s) that made a personal impact?

“There are so many. I’ve always just been so gay and loved female singers. I can think of Ana Gabriel “Quien Como Tu” or Paulina Rubio’s “Mio”—I always loved that song. I was a huge fan of Thalia and Maria Mercedes, any novela opening song was also a big hit. There was this one novela called Agujetas de Color de Rosa and that was a big song for me. Also one called Carrusel and I remember that theme song was also really big. There were also these two women called Filosofía Misteriosa. They’re Honduran reggaetoneras. They’re fucking amazing. They had “Tomala Que Es Tuya,” “Brinca Salta” and “Me La Subo Me La Bajo.”  

Do you have a song that defines 2018 for you?

“I started making a playlist that defined 2018, but you know it’s so crazy, it feels like so long ago [laughs]. I think Bad Bunny had a really good year in 2018 which was really nice. I loved Kelela’s remix album. It was so important for me last year.” 

What’s one song everybody needs in their life?

“So many! It’s like a playlist of songs you all need for different moods [laughs]. I’m going to say Tomasa Del Real featuring Talisto “Tu Señora.” That’s one of my favorite songs.” 

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Interview by Renée Rodriguez

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