In Memoriam: A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg

2016 has not been kind to the music industry, as we bid farewell to yet another member of our historic musical tapestry. This time, it’s Malik Taylor—better known as Phife Dawg—who passed away on March 22, 2016. He was 45 years young.

Phife, along with his childhood friend, Q-Tip, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formed the legendary and influential hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Phife stood at a mere 5’3” which also earned him the moniker “The Five Foot Assassin,” but he approached his craft with a swag that made him larger than life.

Although he openly admitted to hating his voice on the tune “Can I Kick It?” from the group’s debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the track would be nothing without Phife kicking it up a notch on verse two with “Right now, Phife is a poem sayer/At times, I’m a studio conveyor/Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor?” You can drop the needle on the Midnight Marauders classic “Electric Relaxation” at a party, and watch the crowd lose its collective mind. If they don’t know any other lyric, they’ll definitely rap along with, “I like ’em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian/Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation.” Those are just two of Phife’s most memorable verses, and tributes have poured in on social media with fans and fellow artists from across the globe quoting their favorite Phife Dawg lines.

The rapper was also a sports fan—not just a guy who enjoyed watching a game or two on the weekends, but a sports enthusiast who could discuss the finer points of almost any sport (his passion was basketball) like a commentator. In fact, Phife was so well versed in all things sports, that it was no surprise to hear and see him sharing his observations and insight on sports programming such as ESPN and Next Impulse Sports.

Phife battled diabetes since the 1990s, undergoing a kidney transplant in 2008. The family extends our deepest condolences to his loved ones as we remember an undeniable voice that will forever remain an integral part of the soundtrack of our lives.

—Montrose Cunningham

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