Seated in a restaurant in the University City Loop, the St. Louis emcee wears a puffy electric-yellow parka (a product of his own clothing line) that accentuates his hefty frame. A matching neon-yellow beanie covers his head, which normally is coifed with a tall Mohawk and braids. He pounds the table with excitement as he discusses the upcoming release of his cinematic debut, Grind or Die, a 35-minute-long "'hood musical" loosely based on his life experiences that he wrote, produced and stars in.
"No one here has done this. I am the first independent rap artist to film a movie and put it out," boasts Puff, whose given name is Byron Waters. "I tell people I made a movie and their first impression is 'Nigga, yeah right.' Then they see it and they're like, 'Damn. That looks good.'"
The premise of the film is relatively simple: Puff and his posse the Supreme Team have to come up with $1,500 on short notice to pay his mother's rent. To generate cash the crew goes "on the grind," hustling copies of their album. Co-starring several St. Louis comedians, including Longhorn and Ms. Funny, Grind is more sitcom than feature film.
"It's not a true story but it's what I call 'sub-reality.' All of the things in the movie actually happened," Puff says, adding that he had no trouble developing a screenplay. "Once I got the idea set, I started to come up with characters. The hardest part was actually stopping it once I got going."
The way Puff tells it, it was his real-life hustle that helped him nab a regional distribution deal with Blockbuster, meaning Grind will be available in stores as far away as Chicago and Indianapolis.
"Every Tuesday I rent movies from the same Blockbuster on Parker Road [in north county]," he says. "One day I saw two guys in suits who didn't look like regular renters. Turns out one of them was the corporate loss-prevention manager. I told him about the movie and he liked what I had to say and agreed to push it regionally."
Though Puff is responsible for the script and production, local filmmaker N8 Imagination, whose previous experience was directing music videos for Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics, handles the camera work. The music-video background shines in the film's numerous musical interludes, particularly the title track.
The experience, Ruka says, has inspired him to develop ideas for other movies, including a horror film to be called The Bubbleheads. He's also been negotiating deals with several record labels for a recording contract, after finally being released from an unproductive deal he signed in 2005 with Mack 10's Hoo-Bangin' Records.
"'08 is going to be my year," he says with a typically atypical proclamation. "The year of Ruka Puff."
— Keegan Hamilton
Grind or Die premiere hosted by Ruka Puff, 8 p.m. Sunday, December 30. Dante's, 3221 Olive Street. $10. 314-652-2369.
Makin' a List
Ludo's giving its fans the ultimate gift in February: a new album titled You're Awful, I Love You. But before that, the quintet is throwing its annual Christmas shindig at the Pageant — and so B-Sides figured it would be appropriate to ask each member of the band to share his wish list for this holiday season.
Andrew Volpe: If I could have one wish this holiday season, it would be that all the children in the world join hands around the globe and sing in harmony. But then I start thinking about it — and I have a lot of questions. Are we talking about one continuous line of children? Where would this line be formed? On the equator? Wouldn't that be too hot? On some mathematically determined line of latitude that weights population centers so as to minimize overall travel distance? After air travel, you've got inconsistent regional and spotty local transportation to get each kid where they need to be. And that might be in the middle of nowhere.
Tim Ferrell: My favorite gift I gave for Christmas this year is from a company called Rent Mother Nature. Basically, you pay for a share of the crop of your choice — I chose cocoa from Costa Rica — from a network of natural, organic, family farmers dedicated to sustainable agriculture. You receive a certificate and updates on the progress of the crop throughout the season and a few pounds of it at the end. In this case, a few pounds of pure baking or drinking cocoa. They have a variety of crops from which to choose. Merry Christmas — you can have hot chocolate in March!
Tim Convy: Having lived here almost all my life, I love St. Louis — the Cardinals, Chuck Berry, toasted ravioli, the Loop, a free-flowing Highway 40 and, of course, the Gateway Arch! But it's time our town looked to the future and made a move that many feel is long overdue: It's time for the second Arch. The benefits and practical applications of Arch One are already too numerous to list. It keeps many of us from getting lost — and at a height of 630 feet, nothing commemorates quite like it. Just think of what we could do with two! We'd be unstoppable!
Marshall Fanciullo: I would like to wake up and unwrap Scarlett Johansson on Christmas morning. I can't think of anything else that would make the world a better place than having ScarJo and myself finally commence our love. It's a gift that really everyone can enjoy, and isn't that what the holidays are about? Thinking of others? That being said — Scarlett, if you're reading this, let's do the world a favor this year, put our wants aside and give back. See you on the 25th!
Matt Palermo: Warmth. I would love warmth for Christmas. "Let it snow?" No. We'll get plenty of that next month. Let it be warm. Let me not use my space heater. Other than that? I'm hooked on Nintendo Wii, but maybe that's just because I've only played it a few times. Does it get old fast? I hope not. I don't really have a Christmas list this year, is it a getting-older thing or do I already have everything I could possibly want? And what do I get for family and friends? How do I afford gifts on such a low budget? Why is Christmas confusing me now? Christmas used to be so easy. — Annie Zaleski
8 p.m. Thursday, December 27. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $8 to $10. 314-726-6161.