Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, a respected solo MC and an integral member of A Tribe Called Quest, died Wednesday (Mar. 23), due to an unknown cause. He was 45.
Health concerns plagued the Queens, New York MC, who helped shape hip-hop’s landscape in the ’90s as part of Tribe and the Native Tongues movement. He had a long battle with diabetes and underwent a kidney transplant in 2008. It’s unclear how, if at all, those medical issues affected his passing, which was confirmed by Rolling Stone earlier today.
After gaining lauded success, Tribe broke up and stopped recording music after 1998’s The Love Movement. Their discord, and Phife’s medical ailments, were both focal points of Michael Rappaport’s 2011 documentary about the group, Beats, Rhymes, & Life.
Following Tribe’s disbandment, Phife worked on solo material and from time to time, he reunited with Tribe for various live performances. In 2013, for instance, they joined Kanye West’s “Yeezus Tour” for two nights. Last year, ATCQ linked up again on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to promote the 25th anniversary of their debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. It was the group’s final performance with the Five Foot Assassin.
Fans and peers have responded to Phife Dawg’s passing in different ways. While performing in Sydney, Australia last night, Kendrick Lamar asked the audience to remember the Five Footer by chanting his name.
“We lost one of the pioneers in hip-hop today by the name of Phife Dawg, ya’ll,” said Lamar, as fans at Allphones Arena held up lighters and cell phones.
Others in the hip-hop community also mourned his loss, including Eminem, Chuck D, T.I., Pusha T, Big Sean, and Logic.
Very sad that we lost another legend today. RIP, Phife Dawg. His influence & incredible delivery remain forever. pic.twitter.com/jz7ikg8G5W
— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) March 23, 2016
UPDATE: The surviving members of A Tribe Called Quest have released the following statement in the wake of Phife Dawg’s death.
Our hearts are heavy. We are devastated. This is something we weren’t prepared for although we all know that life is fleeting. It was no secret about his health and his fight. But the fight for his joy and happiness gave him everything he needed. The fight to keep his family happy, his soul happy and those around him happy, gave him complete and unadulterated joy… until he heeded his fathers call.
We love his family his mother, his father, his son, his wife, his nieces, his family here in New York, Atlanta, California and Trinidad.
Thank you for the outpouring of prayers and support from the fans, fellow artists, music outlets, blogs, radio stations, DJ’s, social media and the music community at large. This too is part of his joy and means a lot to him. His family is overwhelmed by the support, well wishes and are thankful. His music and what he’s contributed is seismic and hard to measure. He’s affected us as much as he’s affected all of you. We’re inspired by his daily joy and courage. He wasn’t in pain. He was happy.
We take comfort in knowing he will be beside his grandmother.