Phife Dawg, Co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, Passed Away At the Age of 45

By DeMarcus Cobb
Music Journalist

Phife Dawg in A Tribe Called Quest's music video for "Bugging Out."
Phife Dawg in A Tribe Called Quest’s music video for “Bugging Out.”

On Wednesday, we lost yet another hip-hop icon. Phife Dawg has passed away at the brisk age of 45 after battling with long, chronic health issues for some time. Although the assumed cause of death was his diabetes and post-transplant surgery complications, nothing has been confirmed yet.

Last November, The Tribe reunited once again to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their debut album The People’s Instinctive. The Tribe performed together for the first time in 15 years for The Tonight Show. No one expected this to be their last televised performance but I’m sure the music world is happy that at least he made it long enough to celebrate accordingly.

Phife Dawg was born Malik Taylor on November 20, 1970 in Jamacia Queens, New York. He would meet and grow up with Q-Tip since the age of two. He would become one of the original members and co-founder of the Golden Era hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, alongside high school classmate Q-Tip then shortly after Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi would be added to the group.

They were very prominent during the Golden Age of hip-hop in the ’80s and ’90s, attaining three Billboard top 10 albums back to back to back in their prime. Their sound was so unique and ahead of its time; incorporating Jazz into hip hop riddled with conscious, Afrocentric lyrics. They would eventually form a group with like-minded artists, known as the Native Tongues, who challenged the loud, in your face “macho-posturing” rap of the ’80s and ’90s like NWA, early LL Cool J and Public Enemy.

This cultural movement of enlightenment would pave the way for artists such as De La Soul and The Jungle Brothers. They sought to educate the youth on spirituality, self-empowerment through music, cultural awareness and common social issues such as date-rape.

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A Tribe Called Quest. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Although he provided lyrics for the early tracks and first album off of Jive Records, The People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm (see tracks: “Push It Along” or “Can I Kick It?”,) Taylor (and Jarobi) would not become an official member until the second album, The Low End Theory, where Phife shines on tracks “Scenario,” “Jazz (We Got,)” and “Check The Rhyme.” See the infamous music video for “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest.

Taylor was known to speak about the political and social issues. What made Taylor so unique was his wordplay, Trinidadian flair, witty punchlines, and hard delivery; a nice contrast to Q-tips low-spoken, nonchalant poetic flow. He was also known for his references to Pop Culture, Seaman’s furniture in “Electric Relaxation”, and sports especially. Besides music Phife’s next big love was sports! If you were a fan of NBA 2K you might remember seeing him as as a playable character in 2K7 and 2K9.

Although we have lost yet another hip-hop legend, his impact on the industry with Tribe still lives on through the new generation of real rappers such as GoldLink, Swankmaster, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution. I could name plenty more, but you get the gist.

Phife Dawg, you are considered a father of the Golden Era and The Tribe will never be forgotten. It sucks to hear about anyone passing but I was so eager for an official reunion with hopes for one last album.

Rest in paradise, Phife.

2 thoughts on “Phife Dawg, Co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, Passed Away At the Age of 45

  1. Reblogged this on dmocobb and commented:
    I wrote an article this week for the KTSW blog. A Tribe Called Quest had a huge impact on me growing up. My parents would always play Low End Theory or Midnight Maruaders in the house. I was always hopefully for one last Tribe album. I hate to hear about anyone passing but there will never be another Phife Dawg

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