Malik Izaak Taylor, better known as Phife Dawg of the rap group A Tribe Called Quest, recently passed away at the age of 45. The legendary rapper had been dealing with diabetes for decades, and ultimately, complications from the disease took his life on March 22 at his home in San Francisco.
Following a kidney transplant in 2008 and an unhealthy addiction to sugar for years, Taylor had to regularly monitor his sugar levels and the food he consumed. His entire professional career coincided with the progression of the disease, but even with a debilitating health condition, Phife Dawg helped spawn a new sound for a generation of hip hop listeners followed by the golden age of hip-hop.
In the midst of gangsta rap, and the violence and combativeness that arose from the genre, A Tribe Called Quest separated themselves from the sound and message that came to dominate the rap genre and its culture. The group formed in 1985 when Taylor and his childhood friend Jonathan Davis, known as Q-Tip, brought their street rhymes to the school hallways. The group, which also consisted of Brooklyn-bred DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Jarobi White, released their first album five years later, with Taylor appearing on 4 tracks on their debut “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” The album featured their popular singles and now classic Tribe hits "Can I kick it?" and "Bonita Applebum." The album was groundbreaking and a revelation for the group and music in general, meshing hip hop elements with jazzy instrumentals to create a truly distinctive sound. The back and forth chemistry of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg and their seamless exchange of rhymes that would come to define Tribe’s sound, would be on full display in their next album, “The Low End Theory.”
“The Low End Theory” was released the next year and prominently featured Phife Dawg, giving credence to his ability as a rapper and his talent as a musician. He appeared on nearly every track on the seminal record and delivered lines as memorable and unique as the group itself. The diminutive rapper had a distinct delivery and a fittingly raspy, rough voice. His creativity and humor was matched only by his talent on the mic.
The group would disband temporarily in 1998 after five studio albums. Taylor released a solo album in 2000 titled “Ventilation: Da LP” and had plans to release more projects prior to his death. The group would ultimately regroup for concerts over the next decade, but would never again record in a studio.
His loyalty to who he was, and more importantly to the fans who would supported himt, colors the type of person Taylor was. Condolences and tributes have been outpouring since his death, including renaming streets and parks in his honor, showing the widespread appreciation for the man and his music. While there will never be another group like A Tribe Called Quest, it was the individuals and distinct personalities of the group that created the sound and truly changed hip hop and music for the better.