To help boost awareness of his debut album—“A Hustlaz Story”—Reprise/Warner Bros. artist KeAnthony (née Dillard) stars in a short film bearing the same title. Screened at the Hollywood Black Film Festival in June, the film—which also features singer/songwriter Tank, BET personality Aleesha Renee and actor Michael Williams (“The Wire”)—premiered nationally this week on BET.

“My story is entertainment enough, but it’s also reality,” KeAnthony tells Billboard. “A lot of youth will be able to look at the film and say, ‘If
he can get out of his bad situation, I can too.’”

Directed by Dr. Teeth, the film incorporates three songs from KeAnthony’s upcoming CD “I Thought,” lead single “I Ain’t Tryna’” and “Forever My Homie [Done Snitched on Me”]) to tell the singer’s life story. The Nashville native joined his family’s nine-member gospel ensemble, The Gospel True Notes, at the age of five. But as a teen his life took a different turn when his best friend set him up for an eight-year prison sentence. The CD/DVD package arrives on store shelves Aug. 5.

Signed to Warner Bros. four years ago, KeAnthony initially used his nickname Cruna as his professional moniker. Close friend Tank worked as a songwriter/producer on the album, along with the Underdogs, Steve Russell and Scott Storch.

“When you listen to this album, you’ll be able to look out the window and see the vividness in the words,” says KeAnthony, who cites Bobby Womack as a major influence. “While I love to get paid, it’s about more than money for me. I want people to know and hear my music.”