The Films That Made Us: Sir Spyro On ‘Shottas’ & Its Impact On Grime, Road Rap

In our series ‘The Films That Made Us’, we take a look back at the films that have shaped British music over the last three decades. In this third edition, we head to JA for a classic.

The Films That Made Us Sir Spyro On Shottas
Image via Complex Original/Willkay
The Films That Made Us Sir Spyro On Shottas

In our series ‘The Films That Made Us’, we take a look back at the films that have shaped British music over the last three decades. In this third edition, we talk to pioneering grime producer/DJ Sir Spyro about the 2002-released flick, ‘Shottas’, a peak of Jamaican gangster cinema and a stone-cold classic among many in UK music.

A woman, dressed in all-leopard print, is getting down to the sounds of Junior Cat’s “Would A Let You Go” as it rumbles across the party. Motorbikes and sports cars pull up. Champagne is poured. It’s Miami, around the turn of the millennium. 

A private jet lands, and out steps Biggs and Wayne—two Jamaican gangsters who once ran the drug market back home, but are the new kids out on this block. Two beautiful women follow. 

The camera pans back. “Teddy run this city,” croaks a man in all black. He collars a girl and tells her to bring a bottle of bubbly over to the newbies from the plane, sounding like someone who uses gravel for mouthwash. The two groups size each other up. 

A portly man approaches Biggs and tips him off about a regular shipment of drugs that arrives near the port every Tuesday. “Every Tuesday?” asks Biggs. “Every Tuesday,” comes the reply. “Every Tuesday?” “Every Tuesday.” 

In the pantheon of cinema’s great culture-capturing sequences, this scene from Shottas is right up there, somewhere between Ray Liotta’s trip through the restaurant in Goodfellas and the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. It might be a Jamaican gangster film that takes place mostly in sunny Florida, but it struck a profound chord in the UK, so much so that Giggs copied the scene almost frame for frame in the video for his 2015 single “Who’s Dat?”, starring Chip, Jammer, and Aubrey White as the menacing Teddy Bruck Shut. It’s all there: the champagne, the cars, the women, the dialogue—even “every Tuesday”. 

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Cess Silvera’s Shottas follows childhood friends Biggs and Wayne (portrayed by Bob Marley’s son, Ky-Mani, and dancehall’s Spragga Benz) from Kingston to Miami, where they fight a violent gang war with the wicked drug kingpin Teddy Bruck Shut (played by the quasi-legendary dancehall artist and actor Louie Rankin, also seen in Hype Williams’ 1998 film Belly, telling DMX: “You’re looking at the toughest rassclart Jamaican in the United States of America… I run shit. I kill for nottin’. And I make lots of money.”). 

It’s fair to say Shottas missed the movie critics. Its Rotten Tomatoes score currently sits at 17% (that’s 3% lower than Belly), while the New York Times called it a “witless, misogynistic, gratuitously violent, drug-culture-worshiping film”.

You can see why the film’s gory moments might frighten some: in one scene, Biggs and Wayne’s henchman, Max, holds to his lips a cigarette clutched not between his fingers, but between those of a hand severed at the wrist, held aloft by Max shortly after he’s relieved it of its original owner. You’d also be justified in questioning the film’s pseudo-pornographic sex scenes, its occasionally wooden dialogue (“every Tuesday” notwithstanding), its contempt for human life, and its acting—watch out for Wyclef Jean and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from a young, speechless DJ Khaled. 

But to hip-hop heads—especially British ones—Shottas is a classic. As well as Giggs, artists like J Hus, Kano, Terror Danjah, D Double E, Nines and M1llionz have all referenced Shottas at one point or another. “It’s everything, man,” says Sir Spyro, grime super-producer and DJ. “It’s the clothes, the swag. Everything about it is important.”

Rarely disputed among Shottas fans is the film’s main attraction: the raspy, regal, utterly iconic villain Teddy Bruck Shut. Harlem Spartans provocateur Loski has named not one but two songs after him. And in 2015, during grime’s second coming, dubstep pioneer Mala’s label Deep Medi Musik released the Spyro single “Topper Top”, featuring a mysterious MC who went by the name Teddy Bruckshot. “Look who the fuck is back!” ribbits a voice at the start of the banger—just as Rankin does when Teddy’s first introduced in Shottas—before adding: “The original gold teeth, bad teeth without the gold teeth, don’t wear no brief only boxer short.”

What follows is a near-nonsensical stream of ad-libs and flowery patois, delivered in the voice of some deranged rave gremlin over one of the best grime beats of the 2010s. Lady Chann and Killa P also contribute the best verses of their careers for good measure. 

Like Belly, like grime, like all the best underground movements, Shottas found its audience even when the mainstream shot it down.

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“WHO IS TEDDY BRUCKSHOT?” screamed a GRM Daily headline in 2016, not long after a Sir Spyro Boiler Room set in which a masked MC performed alongside Lady Chann and Killa P and “Topper Top” was reloaded 33 times. “Teddy Bruckshot scares the shit out of me,” one YouTuber commented. “If you say Teddy Bruckshot 5 times in the mirror he appears behind you and splits your wig piece,” said another. 

For several years, nobody knew who was behind that guttural voice. Then, in 2017, MC and N.A.S.T.Y Crew member Stormin stepped out from behind the mask. “That whole Teddy Bruckshot idea came from him watching Shottas,” says Spyro. “Stormin always used to do characters. If someone had a pair of decks, they’d muck around and he might do a Jamaican accent. Even when we were off the stage or off the radio, he’d be mucking around doing accents and whatever.” Spyro says Stormin even used to call him ‘Papi’, the name Teddy Bruck Shut uses to address his soldiers in Shottas. “Stormin might randomly say, ‘Yo Papi! Bring me a champagne!’”—Spyro puts on his best Teddy impression, and the way he says ‘champagne’, he could also be saying ‘champion’—“That’s how much it influenced us. It’s in our everyday now.”

In 2018, Stormin tragically died after losing his battle with skin cancer, prompting a wave of tributes from the UK music scene. He was there from the beginning of grime, and Spyro points out that you could hear him rapping as Teddy Bruckshot on a number of early records. As far back as 2005, DJs started playing a dubplate called “Run 4 Cover” by garage producers Rossi B and Luca, featuring N.A.S.T.Y Crew. It was hot property, chiefly because of the gruff bars that would later feature on “Topper Top”, delivered over the bassline from Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock”. 

You can also hear “Jamrock” during Shottas’ opening credits, as a camera floats over the colourful streets of Kingston. “All of them soundtracks, I heard in my household before I watched the films,” Spyro remembers. The same can be said about Shottas’ many recognisable faces: “If you watch a film like that, you already know who all the characters are. And even if you don’t, 20 years later you might think: ‘Oh shit! Is that DJ Khaled?’”

Spyro’s dad is Nereus Joseph, a Jamaican singer who spent the 1980s touring with reggae legends like Dennis Brown and Bunny Wailer.

“My first ever front room would be a mini studio in the corner, jumbo speakers and just heavy sound coming out of it,” Spyro says. “Like Garnett Silk, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, all flying out the speaker.” His older brothers and sisters were musical too, getting into DJing as jungle took hold of Britain in the ‘90s. “They were playing Goldie, Navigator, some big ones from Bristol, but the main one, for me, was Shy FX—he had the tapped jungle, with the basses that didn’t really make sense.” 

Shottas just fit into the culture Spyro had grown up in. “So when I’m hearing the film it’s like, ‘This film’s already impacted me,’” he continues. “I’m hearing soundtracks that I would hear in my house, like ‘Here comes the boom, here comes the...’.” He starts singing DMX’s ‘98-released track “Top Shotter”, featuring Sean Paul and Mr Vegas, which is actually in Belly, not Shottas. “Shit,” he says. “Why am I thinking of a whole different film?” It’s an easy mistake to make.

Like Belly, Shottas had a profound influence on a generation of music fans while being roundly derided by people claiming to be in the know. “The same goes for Friday, the same goes for Don’t Be A Menace,” Spyro adds, then considers what the critics are missing. “Maybe they’re not from that life, or from similar backgrounds, so it doesn’t really connect with them. Maybe that’s why the whole hood sees it first, because it was literally going around the hood on tape.”

It’s true: if you google Shottas, you’ll see its release date listed as 2002, but its official release wasn’t until 2006. By that time, bootleg copies of the film had been circulating for four years, more than long enough for it to enter into hood consciousness. Like Belly, like grime, like all the best underground movements, Shottas found its audience even when the mainstream shot it down. Champion.

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