The hip-hop community was rocked with the news Wednesday that A Tribe Called Quest member and rapper Malik ‘Phife Dawg’ Taylor has passed. As a member of one of the most celebrated musical groups across any genre, Phife’s death was especially jarring to many.
The “Five-Foot Assassin” was born Malik Issac Taylor on November 20, 1970 to Trinidadian parents and raised in St. Albans, Queens, New York. In 1985, Phife and high school classmate Kamal “Q-Tip” Fareed formed the rap duo Quest which later became A Tribe Called Quest when fellow friends Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White joined the group.
As a collective, ACTQ released five studio albums, with their 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm enjoying its 25-year anniversary last year in a re-release. The quartet’s last album, The Love Movement, was released in 1998 and the group essentially broke up afterwards.
A 2011 documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, highlighted the rise of the group and the tensions between band front man Q-Tip and Phife. However, both gentlemen felt that director Michael Rappaport’s depiction of their troubles was overstated.
As a solo act, Phife did guest appearance cameos on several tracks over the years and was currently working on his second full-length album and EP. His first album, Ventilation, was released in 2000.
Phife publicly battled health issues, including diabetes and kidney failure. His wife donated one of her kidneys to the rapper, which was depicted in the documentary. The family issued a statement that Phife passed from complications due to diabetes.
A Tribe Called Quest issued a statement as well, which read:
“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.”