Phife DawgA Tribe Called Quest founding member Malik Taylor, better known by his stage name of Phife Dawg, passed away earlier this week at the age of 45.  Over the course of his career, Phife left behind one of the most influential bodies of work in hip hop.  His family has confirmed that Phife’s death has to do with diabetes, the reason behind his 2008 kidney transplant.

A native of Jamaica, Queens, Phife befriended the other founding members at a young age.  In the documentary Beats Rhymes and Life, Phife and bandmate Q-Tip discuss playing hooky during grade school and writing rhymes together.  He said that the excitement behind the whole scene led him to risk getting kicked out of the house to just be a part of it.  Strongly influenced by other New York groups, particularly De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest came to prominence with their 1990 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, which featured Phife delivering fast, high-pitched verses that perfectly contrasted with the smoother delivery of Q-Tip.  Although he admittedly didn’t care for his early work when looking back, Phife came into his element with the second album, Low End Theory.

With the single “Yo!” and everything else, Phife was able to secure a name for himself among the greats of hip hop.  No longer the sidekick of Q-Tip, he was able to prove his wordplay, musical chops and energy, helping make Tribe stand out.  1993’s Midnight Marauders featured Phife handling entire tracks on his own and delivering some classic one-liners.  Yet the rest of the 90s proved tougher for Tribe, with tension between Phife and Q-Tip being accentuated by Phife’s failing health.

Even though he knew that he had diabetes, Phife had an addiction to sugar.  Many have suspected that the revenue from A Tribe Called Quest’s sporadic touring in the 21st century was to pay for Phife’s medical bills.  Yet despite this, he was always excited about getting back on the road and doing new projects.

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