Watch the Knocks, Cam’ron Soundtrack Subway Showtime in ‘New York City’
As the dance duo the Knocks, James “Mr. JPatt” Patterson and Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner have been bringing their mobile party to sold-out venues around the world. Finally, listeners at home can get in on the action: Their debut full-length, 55, is a multi-headed celebration that gathers singers from all over the musical map and lets them take star turns over group’s feisty, banging beats.
New York’s sweaty, unbridled late-night vibe runs throughout 55 thanks to the pair’s keen ear for catchy hooks and the album’s genre-spanning vocalists — Fetty Wap, Carly Rae Jepsen, Walk the Moon, X Ambassadors, Wyclef Jean and pop hitmaker and onetime downtown denizen Justin Tranter. Their new video, naturally titled “New York City,” features Harlem’s own Cam’ron. Rolling Stone spoke with the Knocks, holed up in a New York studio.
There’s a New York feel to the record — from Cam’ron to Justin Tranter to up-and-comer Phoebe Ryan.
Ruttner: People are always asking us if  is a concept record. It’s not, but it represents New York and the style of DJing called “open format” — a DJ would play a Strokes song into a Kanye song into a demo, whatever, just flipping genres. New York started this whole party-rock DJing thing, and for us, [the album] represents that. That’s the world we come from — we started in New York with me DJing five nights a week at all these bottle-service clubs. I kind of hated it, but it was a way to make money. We look at [the album] as a night out in New York. It has rap songs; it has dance records. It’s kind of all over the place, which is New York.
What’s the collaborative process like? Do you have vocalists in mind for beats, or do artists come to you?
Patterson: It’s different every time. Sometimes we’ll have stuff made; sometimes we’ll be in a session with someone and they’ll have an idea we’ll work off; sometimes we’ll send tracks out; sometimes people come to us to write. … Before we started doing our own stuff, we were pop writers, so we had experience going in and working with people we didn’t know well. For this album we worked with people we did know, which made the process easier.
What was the most surprising collaboration?
Ruttner: The Cam’ron track was originally just going to be an instrumental intro with a sample of Don Henley’s “New York Minute” — but Henley wouldn’t go for it. So we made a million versions of a minute-long New York City-themed opener. And then we were like, “Oh, this would be so dope with Cam’ron,” almost as a joke. We’re huge Cam’ron fans, and he’s obviously a legend. We didn’t think it was going to happen, and we told our label. Next thing you know, they’re like, “Oh, he’s down! He’s going to do it.” We freaked out. We didn’t think that would happen.
Patterson: And Fetty Wap on “Classic.”
Ruttner: That was another one where we were joking with the label — “Oh, let’s get Fetty Wap on this!” Shout out to Atlantic for actually coming through. Our A&R Gina Tucci, is old school — she’s been around, she knows her shit. She’s like a real-deal A&R, which is nice, because she actually works with us. A lot of A&Rs these days don’t have that mentality anymore.
Do you write on the road at all?
Patterson: We… pretend to try. [Laughs.]
Ruttner: I bought a whole case of all this portable music gear—
Patterson: I bought a brand-new laptop.
Ruttner: But then you’re on the bus and you just end up sleeping all day, and eating.
Patterson: Shows take up so much energy; performing at a high level every night takes it out of you, and you just want to rest.
Ruttner: Being on the road is really inspiring in that when you get back, you have so many ideas and you’re thirsty to get into the studio. So it’s a nice break to be gone and not be in the studio, especially right after finishing an album that we busted our asses on.
Patterson: I kept a tour journal so I could remember inspiring moments.