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The music world lost a pioneer today with the passing of rapper Phife Dawg. As one third of the influential group A Tribe Called Quest, Phife Dawg, real name Malik Taylor, helped redefine a genre and prove that both critical and commercial success could be achieved in the rap world.
Phife Dawg’s official cause of death has not been released, but in 2008 he received a kidney transplant from his wife and has been vocal about his struggle with Type 1 Diabetes. He was 45.
Born and raised in Queens, NY, Phife founded the group Quest with high school friend Q Tip in 1985 and later renamed the band A Tribe Called Quest after the addition of Ali Shaheed Muhammad and for a short period, Jarobi White. Together the trio would go on to release five studio albums between 1990-1998, reaching the number one spot with their 1996 record Beats, Rhymes and Life. Phife later released a solo album in 2000 called Ventilation: Da LP and was featured as guest vocals on other artist’s songs, but will be best known for his work with Tribe.
The group’s political and social subject matter in their lyrics combined with catchy and danceable beats made them an inspiration to some of today’s biggest artists, including The Beastie Boys, Eminem, Common, Pharrell, Kanye West and countless others. Their creation of conscious hip-hop in the 1990s continues to be heard and felt on the charts with musicians sampling and name checking the band to this day.
A Milli by Lil Wayne (I Left My Wallet in El Segundo), Got Til It’s Gone by Janet Jackson (Find A Way), Roman’s Revenge by Nicki Minaj and Eminem (Scenario), Versus by Jay Z (Sucka N), and Jesus Walks by Kanye West (Keep It Rollin’) are just a few of the songs that have featured samples from A Tribe Called Quest over the past 20 years.
The trio were the subject matter of Michael Rapaport’s 2011 documentary Beats Rhymes and Life, which shone a spotlight on the relationship between Phife and Q Tip and featured interviews with artists who were inspired to become musicians after listening to A Tribe Called Quest. The band later reunited on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015, which now acts as their final TV performance with the original members.
An outpouring of love for Phife Dawg, who also went by Five Foot Assassin and The Five Footer, has begun rolling in on social media, with #RIPPhifeDawg trending in North America.
Mac Miller has already dropped a tribute song to the late rapper, mashing up some of Phife’s best known verses from his time with Tribe.
See more commemorative #RIPPhifeDawg posts below.
Phife-HipHop & Rap word Warrior, simple as that.Breathed it & lined rhyme into Sport.A true fire Social Narrator my bro #RIBeats ATCQforever
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 23, 2016
No words can truly capture the effect and influence of Tribe. Thank you Phife. For all the records and the rhymes we memorised #RIPPhifeDawg
— Zane Lowe (@zanelowe) March 23, 2016
A pioneer of hip hop has left us. Rest in peace, Phife
— Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) March 23, 2016
"Trini gladiator /anti hesitator /Shaheed push the fader / from here to Grenada" 😥😥😥😥 #RIPPhife …
— Estelle (@EstelleDarlings) March 23, 2016
"you see, my aura's positive I don't promote no junk" #RIPPhifeDawg
— Asher Roth (@asherroth) March 23, 2016
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!
I listen to ATCQ most days but today is gonna be extra sad #RIPPhifeDawg 🙏😢
— example (@example) March 23, 2016
RIP Phife. He was a key ingredient to one of the greatest groups ever. Influenced and touched so many lives, mine included..Tribe all day
— Macklemore (@macklemore) March 23, 2016