Phife Dawg, a founding member of legendary hip hop supergroup A Tribe Called Quest, died Tuesday at age 45.
No official cause of death was announced, but the MC had suffered with Type 1 diabetes for much of his career in music, at times finding difficulties or becoming unable to perform. He also underwent a kidney transplant in 2008.
Born Malik Isaac Taylor, Phife grew up in Queens, N.Y., and formed Tribe with high school friends Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis, nee Kamaal Ibn John Fareed), DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White – who would later leave. The group signed to Jive Records and in 1990 released the first of five studio albums entitled People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, now considered a rap classic.
Phife, calling himself “The Five Foot Assassin” because of his diminutive stature enjoyed the success followed the group for the next decade. Their melodious sound, tribal beats, and thought-provoking lyrics and rhymes attracted fans seeking an alternative to hardcore, misogynistic rap that had increased in popularity. Tribe’s 1991 sophomore release, The Low End Theory gained critical acclaim for its musicianship and rhyme exchange between Phife and Q-Tip. It went platinum by 1995.
However ill health continued to follow him and hindered much of his performing and recording career. He became a diabetes treatment advocate, even calling himself a “funky diabetic” on “Oh My God” on the Midnight Marauders album.
The two albums guided Tribe through phenomenal popularity, but at the same time, Phife’s health problems continued and his relationship with Q-Tip eroded. “I think we’ll get along more if we just dealt with each other on the normal more so than the actual business, because we definitely be at each other’s throats,” Phife told MTV in an on-air interview about the documentary on the group, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.
Still the group found ways to come back together and perform live, but did not release a new album after The Love Movement in 1998. Phife, like Q-Tip, released his own solo work in 2000 entitled Ventilation: Da LP. He had begun recording a follow up Songs In The Key Of Phife: Volume 1 (Cheryl’s Big Son), which was expected in 2011, but was never released.