It was a sad day in the hip-hop community this week. Founding member of A Tribe Called Quest and rapper Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor died Tuesday at the age of 45.
While the cause of death has yet to be officially released, Rolling Stone reported that Taylor had dealt with many health issues due to a longtime battle with diabetes — he underwent a kidney transplant in 2008 — and noted that he said he was addicted to sugar like drugs. (Taylor also famously called himself “the Funky Diabetic” in several ATCQ songs.) In his final interview with the magazine last fall, Taylor was optimistic about the future and was working on a new album, Muttymorphosis, that was “basically my life story.”
The Queens native joined the New York City-based band at 19 and is credited with influencing the group’s rise to critical success. Taylor, with bandmates Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and honorary member Jarobi White, were game-changers to the early 1990s hip-hop sound. Together the foursome pioneered a more progressive style to their aggressive West Coast contemporaries that layered smooth jazz and Afro-centric beats with socially conscious lyrics. The iconic group was signed to Jive Records and recorded five studio albums. Last November, Tribe made its last performance together on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to promote the 25th anniversary reissue of their debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Since the news of Taylor’s death, artists like Questlove, Kendrick Lamar, Sean Lennon, Chris Rock, Chance the Rapper and Mac Miller, among others, have noted ATCQ’s importance to their own careers and took to social media to say goodbye to the late hip-hop legend known as Phife Dawg.
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!