Phife Dawg, a core member of A Tribe Called Quest, has died at age 45. The cause of the rapper’s death has not been confirmed, but he suffered from chronic health issues related to Type 1 diabetes.
In the pioneering indie-rap group, Phife Dawg — born Malik Taylor — played counterpoint to the laconic Q-Tip. The two met in their native Queens at age two, and founded A Tribe Called Quest in the mid-1980s with DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White.
A Tribe Called Quest are best-known for 1991’s The Low End Theory, a widely revered album that expanded hip-hop’s vocabulary by infusing a progressive jazz sensibility. It’s commonly included on lists of the greatest albums of all time. Often grouped with kindred spirits De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest were key to the 1990s expansion of hip-hop from a scintillating new sound to one of the most dynamic and influential musical genres of the 20th century.
Phife Dawg had already been diagnosed with diabetes when the band released that album, and health concerns would continue to challenge him. The band went on to release three more albums in the 1990s and occasionally reunited thereafter, in part due to Phife Dawg’s need to pay ongoing medical bills. His nicknames included “the Funky Diabetic” and “the Five Foot Assassin.”
Last fall on The Tonight Show, A Tribe Called Quest made their first television performance in 15 years playing their biggest hit, “Can I Kick It?” Sadly, it would also prove to be their last TV appearance. In his later years, Phife Dawg was working on a solo album that he described as “the story of my life.”