1990s hip hop has lost another one of its legends. Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, a revered lyricist and founding member of the groundbreaking rap group A Tribe Called Quest, died on Wednesday at the age of 45. An official statement on Taylor’s death has yet to be released.
It was well-documented in Michael Rapaport’s 2011 documentary on the group, Beats, Rhymes & Life, that Phife suffered from health issues for many years following the group’s peak success. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2008 as a result of complications from his longtime battle with Type 1 diabetes.
With word of Phife’s unfortunate death spreading, many in the hip hop community have begun expressing their condolences on social media.
Phife-HipHop & Rap word Warrior, simple as that.Breathed it & lined rhyme into Sport.A true fire Social Narrator my bro #RIBeats ATCQforever
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 23, 2016
— Jermaine Dupri (@jermainedupri) March 23, 2016
A Queens, NY native, Phife formed A Tribe Called Quest with childhood friend Q-Tip, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White in the late 1980s. ATCQ released five studio albums between 1990 and 1998, including the seminal releases The Low End Theory in 1991 and Midnight Marauders in 1993. Phife famously dubbed himself The Five Foot Assassin for the way he would slay fellow emcees with his clever punchlines and wordplay. His standout verses over the soulful, jazz-infused hip hop beats crafted by Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad created an influential sound that inspired many of today’s rap stars, including Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco.
While infighting prevented the group from collaborating throughout much of the 2000s, and health issues robbed Phife of truly pursuing a solo career, he did release one solo album, Ventilation: Da LP, in 2000. In the moments when the group was on speaking terms, they toured together and made some rare television appearances. Like in 2007 when they were among the honorees at VH1’s Hip Hop Honors.