The backstage area of Brixton's 'Electric' is an undeniably confusing environment dominated by disparity. Despite a lack of heating or a proper light source, there is a throne in the corner of the first dressing room I am directed to wait in, an ominous golden installation in an otherwise characterless box that has the aura of a dentists' waiting area (albeit without the three year old copies of 'bella' magazine on the table). This depressing, yet perplexingly regal room is where I first meet Run The Jewels, fresh off a bus from Amsterdam, bags in hand, no entourage or egos in sight - a sense of modesty one doesn't expect from two of hip-hop's most vital and creatively imposing figures.

Producing one of 2013's most forward thinking records, the project, a pairing of Killer Mike and El-P made immediate waves last year, releasing their debut album as a free download on Fools Gold Records back in June after a series of teasers, with the physical version finally dropping last week. Making an impact on the genre somewhat effortlessly, the self-titled record resonated with lifelong fans of the duo's solo work whilst also bringing in a host of new devotees through the vast critical acclaim that ensued, a fire further fuelled by their high intensity live shows around the world. Dark yet visceral, Run The Jewels played to Mike and El-P's strengths both in a production and lyrically balanced sense - the pair thriving off each other's energy to give the record an almost mixtape-like feel with deeper, more meticulous undertones, justifiably sitting high on many 'best of' lists at the end of 2013.

With pre-interview chat already taking a tangent fuelled turn (Mike sits on the throne explaining how he believes Doritos could be used as kindling to start a fire) we move to an equally bewildering room that fuses luxury and DIY, perhaps an unintentionally fitting tribute to the raw yet exuberant style of the album itself. Bottles of Grey Goose vodka and Courvoisier sit atop a makeshift MDF work surface, and I start recording as El-P attempts to plug in a portable heater whilst Mike searches for a wi-fi password. We start by discussing the tenuous comparisons that have arguably plagued a lot of press coverage around the project so far, with many journalists comparing the album to Watch The Throne based purely on the fact it features the collaboration of two hip-hop behemoths. "I'd prefer to be compared to actual rap groups like EPMD, N.E.R.D, Outkast, Smif-n-Wessun, or Twin Hype" explains Mike, looking slightly less royal now he's sat on a budget Ikea couch. "I like Jay and Kanye and that record, but the concept of our approach is subtly different. This isn't a joint or collaborative project, this is a rap group." This idea that that both artists don't see Run The Jewels merely as a collaboration of two solo careers arguably sits at the core of this whole project, and their unique viewpoint is what made the album so different in the first place, a point which El-P further enforces. "We're treating Run The Jewels as a group because it's artistically different to our solo stuff, and we want the group to evolve in a completely separate way to anything else as it's own thing."

Of course without the wealth of solo material and experience both Mike and El-P have behind them, Run The Jewels would be a completely different record, and their ability to fuse nostalgic rap archetypes with progressive production is what gives the album so much resonance in such a short runtime. "I'd say the only nostalgia in our flows is that we're spitting" swiftly argues El-P, before Mike jumps in, "we approach every record like we've got to make a contribution, not just one that we would just throw out there. It takes a special kind of person to know how to make an album that hits some of the buttons people miss, but still pushes things forward."

We begin to talk about how 2013 was a big year for hip-hop, with some gargantuan albums dominating public discussion, yet justifiably both men seem reluctant to talk about other artists, or the industry as a whole in detail. This is until I point out Run The Jewels was seemingly the only rap album this year not to reference "poppin' molly", which unexpectedly sends the duo into fits of laughter, with Mike explaining "I think it's funny how rappers have discovered a drug 15 years after the pop world was done with it." El-P brings discussion round to Danny Brown, labelmate on Fools Gold Records whose album Old also received critical acclaim last year. "Unless you're Danny Brown I don't want to hear any rapper talking about Molly, because he can actually spit, and is about that life. Most rappers just take the word and think "what can I rhyme with that?" whereas Danny is actually a storyteller."

Perhaps the main factor behind Run The Jewels being different from their contemporaries however is the way in which they first released their album as a completely free download, a point which although seems somewhat basic, has a poignant meaning behind it. "We didn't want to compete in a way everyone else is, we want to compete for the hearts and minds of people" explains El-P, excitedly sitting forward in his chair. "We thought if we took away the idea of buying a record and spending money, we'd have a longer relationship with our fans. We're smart enough to know how to make money out of what we do, this just felt natural." Mike steps in, "It's just about not playing the game, and I feel if you take yourself out of that bullshit sales trap and give it away you enter a more trusting relationship with your fans."

The way in which people experience Run The Jewels is clearly important to the pair, and moreover the duo are having fun outside the boundaries of a solo career, a sense of enjoyment they want to pass onto their fans, whilst still questioning the system, as El-P furthers. "Some people will never let go of the old structure because they know it's a legitimate way to make money, but for me I've fantasised for years about the music industry cracking, not because it would be good all around but because I knew it had to happen eventually."

Mike shares a similar sentiment, expressing his relief at bearing less artistic pressure on this release, "it's so good to free ourselves from everything, and I feel this is maybe the first step to what it's gonna mean to be an artist in the future, obviously everyone couldn't do it, but it felt right for us."

Without wanting to merely list what made Run The Jewels stand out so much last year (which I fear I've already done), it would be foolish not to touch upon the refreshing lack of guest-spots on the release, with only one verse on the whole album not coming from the mouths of the two protagonists. "From the jump we said the only other rapper we were gonna have on this record was Big Boi" explains El-P, as we discuss the Outkast legend's appearance on 'Banana Clipper'. "He's like my big brother, my mentor," details Mike, "He started my career so I'm forever indebted to him. That said, in terms of ability he is one of the illest, especially when he's spitting in double time, so we just needed him on that record."

"That beat was actually meant to go on his album originally as well, but by the time he got it the record was pretty much wrapped up so I was just like, I WANT IT."

As our time draws to a close and a host of other interviews await the pair before their sold out London show, the somewhat unexpected topic of the Outkast reunion comes into conversation, with Mike keeping his cards close to his chest "I don't really know what's going on," he explains, as El-P starts to roll a cigarette "I heard a new verse from André 3000 the other day and it was incredible. We were hanging out at a bar and he sent it over, I don't know what he's gonna do with it, I mean rappers never stop putting stuff down, but it was good."

Needless to say, Run The Jewels are unlike any other figures in the hip-hop world, as they manage to stay in complete control of their creative output, yet still have fun and remain humble whilst they're doing it, finding a rare middle ground one can only achieve by experience in the industry, and simply not giving a fuck. It's rumoured that a follow up will be released at some point in the future, but for now the physical copy of their debut dropped last week on Big Dada Records (our copy is in the post).