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
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Phife forever 1970-2016. 1991 in Sept I went to visit Tariq at Millersville U in the middle of PA (Lancaster). Miles Davis had just passed & I went on a binge to study his post jazz works. Went to Sound Of Market to purchase Nefertiti, In A Silent Way & Live Evil—the only non jazz purchase I made that day ironically was the most jazziest album in that collection: #TheLowEndTheory by @ATCQ. —it was raining that day so somehow the 1…2 punch of "Nefertiti"/"Fall" just had me in a trance that train trip—even though I suspected there was a possibility that Tribe could possibly have made a better album then their debut (the perfect @@@@@ mic Source rating would be on stands in a week so I was right)—but I knew I wanted to save that listening for when I got up to the campus w Riq.—so some 90mins later when I get to his dorm–we ripped that bad boy open (I can't describe the frustration that was CD packaging in 1991, just imagine the anger that environmentalists feel when all that paper packaging in Beats headphone gets wasted—it's like that)—the sign of a true classic is when a life memory is burnt in your head because of the first time you hear a song. —Riq & I had this moment a few times, but the look on our faces when we 1st heard "Buggin Out" was prolly Me & Tariq's greatest "rewind selector!" moment in our friendship. (Back then every MC's goal was to have that "rewind!!!" moment. As in to say something so incredible. Or to catch you by surprise that it makes you go "DAAAAAYUM!!!"& you listen over & over—Malik "Phife" Taylor's verse was such a gauntlet/flag planting moment in hip hop. Every hip hop head was just…stunned HE. CAME. FOR. BLOOD & was taking NO prisoners on this album (or ever again) we just kept looking at the speaker on some disbelief old timey radio Suspense episode. & also at each other "Phife is KILLIN!"–by the time we got to "Scenario" I swear to god THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up–(yeah yeah dad I know: "go to Juilliard or Curtis to make a nice living at "real music") but he didn't know that Phife & his crew already wrote my destiny. I ain't look back since. THANK YOU PHIFE!
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.