The first seconds of The Knocks’ New York Narcotic album dumps listeners square in the midst of Manhattan. A subway car bustles as the boom-bap of the Big Apple’s core rises from faint background noise to the thriving pulse of opener “2008.” There, production and vocal duo Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson personify the town, making her the most gorgeous and intriguing of women. “I know you want to meet her,” JPatt says. As the track concludes, their interaction with her becomes less of a romantic relationship and more of an inescapable draw to a drug that promises thrilling peaks and gut-punching lows.
“New York can be shitty sometimes,” says B-Roc, “but you’re still high on it. Our power’s been cut off in our apartment. We’ve been dropped from labels. New York keeps fucking you up and you keep coming back to it.”
In about 10 years, The Knocks’ slow grind has transformed them from a scrappy East Village pair who met at The New School and produced wall-rumbling tracks in their apartment to a formidable 1-2 punch who can create genre-blending dance projects with the likes of Harlem rap icon Cam’ron or pop-sensation Carly Rae Jepsen (as they did on their debut album 55 in 2016), rock festivals every summer, and get the party started for Justin Bieber during the European leg of his Purpose World Tour.
Though their success is apparent, The Knocks still wrestle with the idea that they have. Compared to Jay-Z,” JPatt begins, “we’re not shit. But we’ve done a good job of creating a cult fanbase. Our fans fuck with us because we’ve been as real as you can possibly be. We never sold out to get that instant glory.”
“Sipping on the fame until the taste’s gone,“ B-Roc says on “Big Bills” from their sophomore set New York Narcotic (out Sept. 28). They know what it’s like to feel major, but also know there’s much to accomplish before the glitz glues to them. “We went on tour with Justin Bieber and performed for 20,000 people a night,” Ben says. “And then we got off that and we’re still doing shows where we’re performing before everyone else. Our goal is to do these big things but never let it get to our head.” The Knocks are as likely to be found performing for an arena crowd as they are to be DJing for a handful of music-lovers in a rundown bar.
“This is our first time having a song on the radio,” Ben says of their Foster The People-assisted cut for nightlife junkies, “Ride Or Die.” It has been streamed over 28 million times so far (boasting #1 on iTunes Electronic, 16+ weeks on Billboard Alternative and 22+ weeks on Billboard Dance charts.). “All of these big things are happening over our spans of time. It doesn’t feel like it’s happening all at once. So we were prepared for it.”
Cool funk cut “Shades” is currently featured in Hyundai’s ad campaign (SEE HERE), making it ubiquitous. Its smooth bassline and horns on the hook make it a track fit for the dance floor, but don’t let the obvious mask its story of a man using sunglasses to protect the joy and soul in his eyes from the opposition.
Like “Shades,” New York Narcotic is a thoughtful effort that balances the cheer of ideal New York nights with the sobering realities that sandwich them. Outkast’s Big Boi joins them on “Big Bills,” a song about the deep desire to be rich—or at least make rent—that rides on candy-sweet guitar rifts. “‘That is how everyone feels,” B-Roc says. “I want the big bills to see how it feels,’” he sings.
A feeling that fans will get used to on Narcotic is hearing JPatt rap. His potent bars strike ahead of Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man on “Goodbyes.” James, the rapper, might be a new look for those following The Knocks, but he’s been spitting for years.
“When I met J-Patt,” Ben recalls, “he had albums of him rapping and singing on his own. And we were all like, ‘Oh, it’s funny. J-Patt’s rapping. But he’s not a rapper. So we can’t do it. But now it’s like, ‘Why the fuck not?’ J-Patt is stepping out of the background, singing much more and rapping.”
Quiet as kept, JPatt grew up wishing to be both a lyricist and a producer. Inspiration provided by Kanye West powered him. “He really changed the game for me and made me believe it was possible to be both,” James says. “I had so many notebooks that were filled with lyrics that never got to get spit. I definitely put my 10,000 hours into rapping.”
Those who might question The Knocks’ genuine love for rap should fall back; Boasting records with AZ, Cormega, Lil Wayne, and G-Unit, they’re clearly are true Hip-Hop fans. “If someone does step to us step to us,” B-Roc starts, “like, ‘Oh, you guys are making rap music now?’ I’ll be like ‘Yeah, check our rap credentials from when we were 18.’ We’ve been doing this.” An album dedicated to the birthplace of Hip-Hop needs rap as much as it requires odes to its lesser-known nooks and novelties.
Narcotic goes across the bridge to Brooklyn on “The Wizard of Bushwick,” where James resides in his “psychedelic palace.” The bouncing bop was inspired by a crazy picture of him snapped on his Bushwick roof wearing garb from his buddy’s Burning Man costume collection, walking stick included.
The album wraps with “Fung Wah Bus,” named after the now-defunct N.Y.C. to Boston line known for its cheap tickets and wonky schedule. The gentle closer stars Sleigh Bells songstress Alexis Krauss, who quietly exits the city. It’s tough to tell if she got her ass kicked by Gotham or if she’s just exhausted from hours of overindulging. “All good things end,” she sings while waving goodbye to her friends. It’s one of the purest moments of the set, where euphoria and sadness meet. Whatever she experienced during her trip was clearly too much for her to handle—enough for her to swear she’ll never return. Though Manhattan, as The Knocks know, is addictive. She’ll be back.