Hip Hop Legend Phife Dawg, Dead At 45

BY TRONE DOWD

Legendary MC Malik Taylor, better known as Phife Dawg of the hip-hop group “A Tribe Called Quest,” died Tuesday night of diabetes-related complications.

Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, passed away Tuesday night.

Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, passed away Tuesday night.

Taylor, who went by a number of self-proclaim monikers including “the five-foot assassin,” was a Southeast Queens native, hailing from St. Albans. Born November 20, 1970, he grew up during the rise and golden age of hip-hop. In his high school years, he met his close friend and soon to be collaborator Jonathan Davis. Davis, better known today as the hip-hop heavyweight Q-Tip, and Taylor would go on to collaborate a number of times as indie solo artists and as a part of other big name hip-hop groups, before forming their own super group. Alongside Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the four friends formed Quest in 1985. Their official name, “A Tribe Called Quest” was coined by their close friends and high school contemporaries, hip-hop group “The Jungle Brothers.”

In 1990, the group released their first studio album after signing a record deal with Jive Records. The album was met with positive reviews, but outside of the singles “Can I Kick It?” and “Bonita Applebum,” was not a commercial success. It wasn’t until their second album, 1991’s “The Low End Theory” and their performance of their single “Scenario” on The Arsenio Hall Show that the group soared to new heights.

The group was a part of the “Native Tongues” hip-hop collective of the 90’s. The collective was made up of some of the biggest names in hip-hop at the time and reinforced good natured, intelligent and afrocentric lyrics often times paired with production heavily influenced by smooth jazz, soul and rhythm and blues made famous by the black musicians of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Members of the “Native Tongues” include group De La Soul, Queen Latifah, The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love, Leaders of the New School which brought Busta Rhymes into the mainstream, Common, The Pharcyde, The Roots and many more who arguably set the standard for 90’s hip-hop alongside frequent collaborators, J-Dilla and Pete Rock.

Taylor was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990. Ever the clever MC, he took it all in stride often times using it in his lyrics. On the classic song “Oh My God,” he famously rapped in his verse, “when’s the last time you heard a funky diabetic?”

In 1998, “A Tribe Called Quest” called it quits after the release of their album, “The Love Movement.” Taylor would begin his solo career, releasing his album “Ventilation: Da LP” which was met with mostly positive reviews for his rapping ability. He released one more album in 2010, titled “Songs in the Key of Phife.”

Since being diagnosed with diabetes, he faced a number of issues concerning his health. In 2008, he received a kidney transplant from his wife. He kept relatively quiet when it came to his personal life, only appearing for music related reasons. He and “A Tribe Called Quest” would reunite in 2004, 2006 and 2008 for one off shows in Canada and in the U.S. In 2013, Taylor and his group made headlines when it was announced that they would be reuniting one last time for Kanye West’s “Yeezus Tour,” alternating with Grammy Award winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Many Southeast Queens residents took to social media to express their thoughts on the sudden passing of Phife Dawg.

Jamal Wilkerson, former president of the Queens County Young Democrats, said Phife Dawg’s “slick rhymes helped put ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ on the map and eventually to worldwide status.”

“He will be missed not just because of his songs, but because hip-hop was him, and he was hip-hop,” he continued.
Community civic leader Kevin Livingston, inspired by the outpour of grief after Taylor’s passing said he “will start now to get a street named after this hip-hop legend.”

Taylor’s family released a statement shortly after his death, remembering the mark that he left not only on the hip-hop world, but in his loved ones lives too.

“Malik was our loving husband, father, brother and friend,” the statement said. “We love him dearly. How he impacted all our lives will never be forgotten. His love for music and sports was only surpassed by his love of God and family.”

Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, tdowd@queenspress.com or @theloniusly

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