Socially conscious and a skilled freestyler, underground rapper C-Rayz Walz participated in open-mike nights around New York City before hooking with the Stronghold collective. Walz's earliest appearances included mixtapes, an AWOL magazine compilation, and Single Minded Pros' Session 2 EP. A demo-filled debut album, The Prelude, appeared on his own Sun Cycle Entertainment imprint in late 2001 and soon caught the attention of the folks at Definitive Jux. A guest feature on Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein with fellow Stronghold member L.I.F.E. and an appearance on Aesop Rock's Labor Days kicked off his relationship with the label.