VIDEO Rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest Dies at 45

VIDEO Rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest Dies at 45

Phife Dawg, one of three members of the pioneering rap group A Tribe Called Quest, a New York City band that helped redefine hip-hop in the 1990s, has died, according to his manager. He was 45, and had long suffered from chronic health issues; he had referred to himself in one song as a “funky diabetic.”

Known more for by stage name than for his given one, Malik Taylor, Phife Dawg wrote lyrics that mixed outrageous boasts, self-deprecating humor and sports trivia with warnings about the pitfalls of the music industry.

Tribe Called Quest
(l-r) Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, and Jarobi White of musical group A Tribe Called Quest perform with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on November 13, 2015.

He and partners Q-Tip — his childhood friend from Queens — Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad incorporated elements of jazz, 1970s rock and black consciousness as an alternative to another genre, gangster rap, that was ascendant at the time. Their intelligent, self-aware message linked them to what became the Native Tongues collective, which also included De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers.


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 photo posted by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

The recipe was wildly successful: A Tribe Called Quest became one of the most successful rap acts of its era, with three albums hitting the Billboard top ten and all five of its releases going gold or platinum.

After their 1998 breakup, Phife Dawg and the other members went on to solo careers, but his didn’t go very far, as he reportedly struggled with poor health. The group reunited a few times in the past several years, appearing on “The Tonight Show” in November 2015.

Phife Dawg, born in 1970, provided lyrics for early songs but didn’t become an official member until the group’s second album, “Low End Theory,” released in 1991. 

“But as far as chemistry, it’s always been there because I’ve known Q-Tip since we were 2 years old. The chemistry was always there,” Phife Dawg told New York magazine last year on the 25th anniversary of their debut album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” 

Phife Dawg was the arguably group’s most playful rapper, making fun of his short stature (calling himself “the five-foot assassin”) and his affinity for sugar, and referencing an array of sports and pop culture: “The Bionic Woman,” turbulent former New York Knicks guard John Starks, the “Three’s Company” character Mr. Furley. 

Last fall, he told New York that he was at work on solo albums, which he hoped to be released in 2016. But those records have not been released. 

He said he saw the time of his group’s rise as a golden era that is difficult to replicate. “Life is a cycle, and certain things are always going to come back around, especially if people cherish them like they cherish the golden era,” he said.

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