Born Malik Isaac Taylor in 1970, he co-founded the philosophically-focused rap group in 1985 with his classmates Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Phife Dawg whose nimble, clever rhymes helped launch A Tribe Called Quest to both commercial and critical success, died Tuesday at the age of 45 from complications resulting from diabetes.
Taylor had health issues for years, undergoing a kidney transplant in 2008 to deal with a longtime battle with diabetes.
“It’s really a sickness,”
Taylor said in Beats, Rhymes & Life, Michael Rapaport’s candid 2011 documentary on the group.
“Like straight-up drugs. I’m just addicted to sugar.”
Taylor appeared on all five of the group’s studio albums, most notably 1991’s The Low End Theory and 1993’s Midnight Marauders, acting as the high-pitched, gruff vocal counterpoint to Q-Tip’s smooth, mellow flow.
The group broke up and reunited multiple times since the release of their last album, 1998’s the Love Movement.
As documented in Beats, Rhymes & Life, the group would sporadically reunite for live shows, but stopped short at recording new material.
Health problems deterred Taylor from recording much solo material, though the rapper released his only solo album Ventilation: Da LP in 2000.
Speaking to Rolling Stone last November, Taylor was tentatively optimistic about both his health and future recording plans.
News of Phife Dawg’s death emerged on Twitter, where producer and broadcaster DJ Chuck Chillout posted an RIP message in the early hours of Wednesday morning