A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Five Foot Assassin,’ Phife Dawg, Passes Away at 45 – Tributes Pour In

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Rapper Phife Dawg, a member of the pioneer hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, died Monday night at the age of 45, after a long struggle with type-2 diabetes.

While there is no information about what caused his death, the rapper battled diabetes for several years before receiving a kidney transplant in 2008. His diabetes became one of his signature characteristics.

According to BBC, Phife Dawg “nicknamed himself the Funky Diabetic and the Five Foot Assassin — a reference to his diminutive stature — and his self-deprecating swagger became one of the band’s trademarks.”

Phife Dawg was born Malik Isaac Taylor in 1970. He helped found A Tribe Called Quest with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad in 1985. As residents of Jamaica Queens, New York, the three men were at the epicenter of the burgeoning rap scene and quickly became stalwarts in the industry for their lyrical genius and prowess.

“Malik was our loving husband, father, brother and friend,” his family said in a statement. “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.”

In the 1990s, the group skyrocketed to the top with the 1991 album Low End Theory — a rap classic that went on to influence many future rappers. The album was a philosophical masterpiece with hit singles like “Buggin’ Out,” “Check the Rhime” and “Scenario.”

By the 2000s, Phife Dawg had gone solo, and he became one of Q-Tip’s toughest critics. His first solo album, Ventilation: Da LP, was released in 2000. At the time of his passing, the rap legend was reportedly working on a second solo record entitled Muttymorphosis.

Phife Dawg and other members of A Tribe Called Quest reunited several times. The first was in 2006, and for several years they toured and reconnected. Then the group broke up again. Last November, the group reissued People’s Instinctive as the first of a massive reissue campaign. A Tribe Called Quest’s Tonight Show performance of “Can I Kick It?” — their first televised performance in 15 years — would end up being the group’s last, reports Rolling Stone.

Phife Dawg was known for his vibrant and innovative lyricism. Twitter users shared their love as well as their favorite lyrics from the rapper:








Phife Dawg contributed to both Rap Pages and Slam magazine, writing pieces about sports and music. He also served as music consultant for the Golden State Warriors at one point.

“He brought the street to A Tribe Called Quest,” said the group’s former manager Chris Lighty in actor/director Michael Rapaport’s documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life. “If Q-Tip was esoteric and on Pluto, Phife would bring them back to the moon so that it was in the realm of human understanding.”

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