Phife Dawg, longtime member of legendary hip-hop act A Tribe Called Quest, has died at age 45.
Though the cause of death has not been announced, Phife, born Malik Taylor, battled Type-1 diabetes for years, undergoing a kidney transplant in 2008. His illness came to the fore during the early days of A Tribe Called Quest’s success, with the famously diminutive rapper referring to himself as “a funky diabetic” on Tribe’s 1994 hit “Oh My God.”
Phife made an early appearance on De La Soul‘s infamous posse cut “Buddy,” before emerging as a member of one of the 1990s most acclaimed rap groups. Within ATCQ, Phife’s sports-referencing, brag-filled rhymes were often seen as a counter to frontman Q-Tip‘s more “abstract” and artsy approach to lyricism. Although he barely appeared on the group’s debut (but memorably shined on the classic single “Can I Kick It?”), Phife emerged as a star in his own right and the perfect foil for Q-Tip on the group’s acclaimed second album, 1991s The Low End Theory. His distinctive voice and flow opened beloved Tribe tracks like “Buggin’ Out” and “Scenario,” and the playful back-and-forth between he and Q-Tip was immortalized on their hit “Check the Rhime,” which features the unforgettable “You on point, Tip?” “All the time, Phife,” hook that would become virtually ubiquitous amongst hip-hop fans.
Despite Q-Tip’s star status, Phife Dawg was consistently given room to shine on ATCQ’s albums: most notably on “solo” tracks like “Butter” and “8 Million Stories.” He also garnered guest spots on tracks by a variety of artists including TLC and the Fu-Shnickens. By the late 1990s, the relationship between the members of Tribe, particularly Q-Tip and Phife, frayed to the point where the group disbanded in late 1998. Phife would release his first and only solo album, 2000s Ventilation: Da LP, to moderate success.
But his health problems prevented Phife from pursuing a solo career beyond his one album. Over the years, A Tribe Called Quest would reunite for shows and tours, sometimes to help fund health treatments for their ailing bandmate. The group’s rise and friction were famously documented in Michael Rapaport’s 2011 documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest; the film also featured Phife speaking candidly about his illness; from his sugar addiction to his love for his wife, who donated her kidney for his 2008 transplant.
In a group known for pushing hip-hop’s boundaries creatively and artistically, Phife Dawg kept the quartet connected to it’s b-boy soul. His unmistakable voice and flow was as indelible to Tribe’s sound as it’s grooving, jazz-influenced beats and Q-Tip’s esoteric persona. Hip-hop has lost one of it’s most beloved voices. His name was Phife Dawg of the Zulu Nation.
Phife’s death sparked immediate reactions from fans and celebs online. Check out some tweets below.
Confirmed. rest in peace Phife. Man. I'm out.
— Statik Selektah (@StatikSelekt) March 23, 2016
RIP PHIFE DAWG: https://t.co/F1i0hNIkK6
— Mac (@MacMiller) March 23, 2016
Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest Passes Away at 45 | The Source https://t.co/XZavNk4Ir2
— Jedi Mind Tricks (@jmthiphop) March 23, 2016
— Obie Trice (@realobietrice) March 23, 2016
— Krayzie Bone (@iamKrayzieBone) March 23, 2016