The Knocks are a New York story through and through. They met as 19-year-old college students, late one night in a studio at the New School. Ben Ruttner, known as “B-Roc,” DJed clubs as a PM day job, and James Patterson, known as “JPatt,” played the organ at a church outside the city. Both in need of roommates, they moved into an apartment on Avenue C in The East Village that—in the DIY style that would go on to define their work in the industry—the two of them soon turned into a bootleg studio where rappers and bright-eyed vocalists came in to cut tracks. It was a tiny place, with walls as thin as the bugs were plenty. Their neighbors started banging brooms floor to ceiling, cracking knuckles on the walls. When the music got loudest, B-Roc and JPatt would go into each other rooms and say, “I just got the knocks.”
Their new album 55 is a triumph, a resolutely DIY dance album that pulses with the heart of the city. It’s a love letter to the old-school way of making music, and to that classic story of two kids who came to NYC to make it big. It opens with none other than Cam’ron, rapping over uptown piano: gospel voices build in the background, as golden as the light when your plane lands in the outer boroughs, as big as the river when your cab speeds across the bridge. The collaborations on the album are spot-on and electric, with the distinction of being forged artist to artist rather than from label emails sent top down. Wyclef Jean comes out of nowhere to electrify the bump and groove of “Kiss the Sky,“ Carly Rae Jepsen takes a house diva turn on earworm “Love Me Like That,” and Alex Newell aims his high range like a trigger in SPIN’s best-101-of-2015 pick “Collect My Love.” It’s an album laced with disco magic and hiphop flow; it’s built for a crowd, but first it has to pass a bar that’s internal. “Would I spin this?” the Knocks still ask each other, every time they cut a track. They’ll be spinning this one for years.