For Chicago’s T.Z. DUHH, The Effort Never Dies
Written by Vocalo Radio on August 26, 2021
Self proclaimed “trapped out weirdo” T.Z. DUHH makes music for cruising, smoke sessions and hanging with aliens — the moniker he’s given to his fan base.
Chicago rapper T.Z. DUHH has been hyper-productive over the past four years, dropping four albums and both releasing and collaborating on an assortment of tracks… all while helping raise his young children.
His energetic summertime single “My Place,” featuring Benny St. Claire, was featured on Vocalo’s Poised To Break Through playlist for August 2021 and his track “Queso,” featuring Peso Peso, was featured on the In Rotation playlist in November 2020. With plenty of new music on the way, we spoke with T.Z. DUHH about where he got his start, how fatherhood has impacted his musical journey and his recipe for perfectly cooked salmon.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you now? How’d you get there?
I was born in Chicago Heights, and I was raised there with my father. I would go with my mom and stay in Rogers Park on weekends, because my dad had custody. Then my mom, older brother — J Torres, who is also my manager — and older sister, Kendra, moved to Sauk Village to be closer to me. Eventually, around 18 years old, my father would kick me out the house, and in 2011 me and my mom moved back to Rogers Park from Sauk Village.
Tell us the story of how you came up with the name “T.Z. DUHH.” Were there other names you were considering going by?
Well my cousin — now known as MBM Stick Shift, “Sticks” for short — and I started rapping for real and recording at 13 years old with Unykue The Kid, a friend of my brother’s at the time. I really started writing raps and trying to rap at 10 years old, but didn’t really start getting good until I was 13. Our group was the “Chi Town Psychos.” He was “Insane Hustla” and I was “Lil Wacko.”
As we got older, though, we started to find ourselves more. My cousin was super into the streets at an early age and I followed suit, eventually earning the name “Twilight Zone” around like 15 or 16, because I was always high. Eventually our friends just got tired of saying the whole thing and just started calling me “T.Z.” The “Duhh” would come years and years later — from Facebook, actually, because my name on facebook was T.Z., but I needed a last name so I just put “Duhh,” because it was like, obviously it’s me. People just started saying it when they would meet me, like, “Oh, are you T.Z. Duhh?” I’m like, “You don’t say the “Duhh,” just ‘T.Z.'” Other names people call me are “Twilight,” or “Uno,” if you personally know me, or just “T.” But since high school, my rap name has always been T.Z.
When did you first begin making music, and what motivated you to?
I started making music in fifth grade at 10 years old, after me my best friend Victor Cruz, [AKA] Ghost, my little brothers Kyle and Conner, [AKA] Kal and Loony, and myself saw [the movie] “8 Mile.” Really, Ghost was more into it than me. I didn’t really record anything until I was 13 and got better at flowing and writing. I was really determined to get better after my older brother showed me Twista’s Adrenaline Rush album. I told him I wanted to rap, and he bet me I couldn’t even write a verse in three months. I definitely lost that bet, but it lit a fire under me that would help me improve in the oncoming years. I reconnected with my cousin around 13 years old and convinced him to come rap with me at my brother’s friend Unykue, [pronounced “Unique”], The Kid’s house, close to my dad’s in Chicago Heights. We been makin’ music together ever since.
What has your experience been as a musician in Chicago? Do you feel there is a good sense of community that keeps you here, or could you see yourself moving elsewhere to pursue music?
I love Chicago. Being a rapper from here, everyone expects you to drill or rap about gang life — which I won’t say I don’t do, but I more just have always been about being myself, so I feel I get good love all over the city.
Unfortunately, our city isn’t like [Atlanta], Houston and Cali. Nobody likes supporting each other out here, ’cause nobody wants you to get ahead of them, so it can be a little difficult at times. But, once you show people and give ’em a real reason to like you, people support. I got too much stuff here, so I really couldn’t live anywhere else. I always find myself missing home when I go out of town for more than three or four days.
Walk us through your songwriting and collaboration process while working on “My Place” with Benny St. Claire. How did the two of you decide to collaborate on this single? Where did you get the inspiration to write this song, and why now?
Well, the song I originally made [was] with my producer Kai Hightower, who is a really good friend of mine. He’s always making me beats for free and hookin’ up whatever he can, whenever he can. Around 2019 I moved to the Pilsen neighborhood and I had a bunch of stuff goin’ on prior to that, figuring my life out after taking a few L’s. So I just got on my grind, and Kai would come over and we would just get lit and make like five to 10 beats a night, and I would just write the song as he makes the beat. Probably spent an hour or two per beat.
“My Place” was done before he even finished the beat. I was sitting there with my new grill and chain and all my jewelry at that time, just thinking about the Drake line from “Started From the Bottom,” where he said he wears every single chain, even when he is in the house. So that’s why I started by sayin’, “Even in the house I got all my gold on.” Just having a crib to call my own inspired me, because nobody can tell me what to do — it is my crib.
Getting Benny on the track was super easy because we have a few songs together already. He is my best friend Los Wit The Most‘s younger brother, so we got some good history together prior already. We constantly send music back and forth even though he is from and lives out in Texas. He heard the track and was instantly down to give me a second verse. It wasn’t really a “when to drop” situation, it was a “how.” I been working on an album called Uno the last two years, among the other projects I have. I usually work on multiple projects at one time, but Uno is mostly done. The pandemic kinda slowed up the process, so we just decided it’s time to show the world the new me through the losses and gains of the last few years.
Do you prefer collaborating with other artists or working alone?
I like to work alone, because there is no distractions [or] outside influences. But I also am a big energy person, so when the right people are around, the right inspiration always finds a way in. So really, it is either one, but a lot of stuff I do alone. I did “My Place” [alone] and then added Benny later on because I knew he was a perfect fit. I often collab with my cousin MBM Stick Shift, Bando Brando and Space Jam Jaye. My boy Los Wit The Most don’t rap too much anymore, but he knows [if] he ever needs a verse, I got him! I also have an artist, her name is Big P So Bougie — definitely one of the coldest female rappers I know!
“I just want to show [my kids] they don’t have to be what society says. They can achieve their dreams and goals, because they are amazing.”T.Z. DUHH
What sets “My Place” apart from your previous EP 4Da Luv?
4Da Luv is an EP I made for all the people who love me and that I love. Just something I felt like I could give to the world. “Lonely,” specifically, is me telling the world I am ready to be this amazing artist I know I can be, and I won’t forget the ones who really held me down. “My Place” is a single off my upcoming album Uno and I just felt it was a strong single. It is fun and easy to catch on to, so it was a simple choice to drop it. But the whole Uno album will be my best yet!
How have your experiences as a father influenced your music, if at all?
Man, I love my kids. I bring them with and let them record. I put little pieces of them in my music all the time. I want them to see, when they get older, I always thought of them and cared. Being an artist takes a lot of time, and sometimes I have to give up a weekend to go travel and do shows out of state. So I just want them to know I always think about them, and I just want to show them they don’t have to be what society says. They can achieve their dreams and goals, because they are amazing.
What is an album that you would have loved to be featured on, and why?
Anything from Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Future, Schoolboy Q, Freddie Gibbs, EST Gee, Jadakiss or Pusha T. Throw Young Dro in there, too. I consider them all master lyricists. They are not all my influences, I have so many in rap alone, but those are a few.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Well, I was a professional cook for four years, so I love a lot of Neo American, BBQ or Puerto Rican food … I can’t make it, but I am Puerto Rican. I love food! My favorite thing to make is salmon with asparagus, spinach and mushrooms, or rack of lamb and garlic mashed potatoes with green onion and asparagus. I also love to make a good steak or ribs, in the house or on the grill.
We saw on Instagram you’ve posted a few times about cooking salmon. What’s your go-to way to prepare it?
Y’all really checked me out, which makes me super excited. Making salmon in a skillet is always good and easy — but a nice thick piece, you season it however you prefer then bake it for 12 minutes in an oven at 425 degrees. It always comes out perfect.
Can you give listeners a sneak peak into what DUHH Studios will look like?
Well, hopefully in the next year or so everything will be upgraded, but we already have nice equipment now. Really, we need an engineer so we can start making that money. My best friend Lucien Caillouet, AKA Trap Art, will be painting my studio. If you find him on Instagram, you can see his art. He is dope, most of the paintings in my house are done by him. He also did the cover for my album Uno and a bunch of covers for T.Z. Tuesdays.
Anything else coming up on the horizon listeners should know about?
My cousin MBM Stick Shift and I are dropping a collab album called The E.N.D. (The Effort Never Dies) [at the] start of next year. Space Jam Jaye and I have a collab album called Psychedelic Gangstas dropping Halloween this year. My album Uno drops end of this year or spring next year … so there is a lot. I have three other albums actually completed that have also been waiting to drop, so we trying to figure it all out so the music doesn’t go to waste. I have over 100 songs unreleased, and counting.
If you have not, go to my YouTube, watch the “My Place” video by T.Z. DUHH featuring Benny St. Claire. Also go listen to the 4Da Luv EP and my albums 31 Days and Jupiter, with features from Freddie Gibbs, Peso Peso, Valee and a few of my talented local artist friends. Also, be looking for my artist Big P So Bougie. Her album [is] dropping next year, but she features on my album Uno, and we have a single from the album that will drop soon called “Yummy.”
Interview edited for length and clarity by Erik Anderson & Morgan Ciocca
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