Phife (born Malik Isaac Taylor, aka Phife Dawg), cofounder of the trailblazing hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, died yesterday at the age of 45. An official statement on his cause of death has not been released, but he had several serious health issues within the past 10 years,including diabetes and having to undergo a kidney transplant.
The “Five Foot Assassin,” a nickname he acquired due to his small stature, rose to prominence in the late 1980s when he co-founded A Tribe Called Quest with fellow rapper Q-Tip. They went on to commercial success with their most popular album, Beats, Rhymes and Life, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Although not as commercially successfully as Beats, Rhymes and Life, their most critically acclaimed album came with 1991’s The Low End Theory.
The commercial success of A Tribe Called Quest barely touches the impact they had on the hip-hop and soul-music community. Phife was one of the chief architects of the group through their numerous albums, often being the gruff counterpart to Q-Tip’s smooth vocal flow.
By the 2000s, A Tribe Called Quest had ceased making new material with the members, embarking on his own solo endeavors. The Tribe reunited for a few high-profile reunions, including one on the Late Night Show With Jimmy Fallon as recent as last November. This performance was meant to commemorate and promote the 25th anniversary edition of their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhyme.
Upon the news of his passing, many artists within the hip-hop community tweeted their condolences, including Macklemore, Jill Scott and Russell Simmons. Many artists across a wide array of genres have cited Phife’s influence.
He may have only been 5’3″, but his legacy is far from short.