Legendary rapper Phife Dawg has passed away at the age of 45. Though a formal cause of death has not been revealed, the emcee, who was a founding member of famed hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, had been battling health issues for some time, many related to his struggle with diabetes. Phife received a kidney transplant for diabetes-related complications in 2008, and was an outspoken advocate for those with the disease.
Known for his quick-jab vocal skills, Phife’s style was a massive influence on virtually all rappers who came after him, having been praised by Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, André 3000, J. Cole, and Chance The Rapper — among scores of others.
Phife forever 1970-2016. 1991 in Sept I went to visit Tariq at Millersville U in the middle of PA (Lancaster). Miles Davis had just passed & I went on a binge to study his post jazz works. Went to Sound Of Market to purchase Nefertiti, In A Silent Way & Live Evil—the only non jazz purchase I made that day ironically was the most jazziest album in that collection: #TheLowEndTheory by @ATCQ. —it was raining that day so somehow the 1…2 punch of "Nefertiti"/"Fall" just had me in a trance that train trip—even though I suspected there was a possibility that Tribe could possibly have made a better album then their debut (the perfect @@@@@ mic Source rating would be on stands in a week so I was right)—but I knew I wanted to save that listening for when I got up to the campus w Riq.—so some 90mins later when I get to his dorm–we ripped that bad boy open (I can't describe the frustration that was CD packaging in 1991, just imagine the anger that environmentalists feel when all that paper packaging in Beats headphone gets wasted—it's like that)—the sign of a true classic is when a life memory is burnt in your head because of the first time you hear a song. —Riq & I had this moment a few times, but the look on our faces when we 1st heard "Buggin Out" was prolly Me & Tariq's greatest "rewind selector!" moment in our friendship. (Back then every MC's goal was to have that "rewind!!!" moment. As in to say something so incredible. Or to catch you by surprise that it makes you go "DAAAAAYUM!!!"& you listen over & over—Malik "Phife" Taylor's verse was such a gauntlet/flag planting moment in hip hop. Every hip hop head was just…stunned HE. CAME. FOR. BLOOD & was taking NO prisoners on this album (or ever again) we just kept looking at the speaker on some disbelief old timey radio Suspense episode. & also at each other "Phife is KILLIN!"–by the time we got to "Scenario" I swear to god THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up–(yeah yeah dad I know: "go to Juilliard or Curtis to make a nice living at "real music") but he didn't know that Phife & his crew already wrote my destiny. I ain't look back since. THANK YOU PHIFE!
A Tribe Called Quest was founded in the late-1980s, and became a pioneer in the jazz-influenced sound of hip-hop in the early and mid 1990s. The group’s sophomore album, The Low End Theory, is to hip-hop what Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is to jazz. The album is a beloved cornerstone in any true fan’s collection, and feels just as fresh today as it did when it hit stores in 1991.
— NYC Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) March 23, 2016
The group would release five albums in total, breaking up in 1998, but continuing to reunite for special one-off concerts throughout the past two decades, including a tour in 2006.
News of the musician’s death prompted responses from all over the entertainment world, with musicians, actors, and athletes making public statements about his importance to them.
— FLYLO (@flyinglotus) March 23, 2016
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, famed co-founder of The Roots, took to Instagram to mourn Phife and discuss his influence, sharing a story about the first time he heard The Low End Theory, “By the time we got to [the song] Scenario I swear to God THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up.”
a tribe called quest is the greatest rap group of all time. and i would have never thought i had a place in rap if not for them #RIPPhife
— Open Mike Eagle (@Mike_Eagle) March 23, 2016
At his most recent concert, Kendrick Lamar led his audience in a call-and-response to commemorate Phife’s work, and credited him as central to his ability to perform on stage.
I like brown ,yellow Puerto Rican or Haitian name is phife dog from the Zulu nation. Rip Phife pic.twitter.com/rSy8pSKnxC
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) March 23, 2016
Other collaborators, musicians, fans, and even the New York City Mayor’s office have responded to news of the rapper’s death as well.
Phife-HipHop & Rap word Warrior, simple as that.Breathed it & lined rhyme into Sport.A true fire Social Narrator my bro #RIBeats ATCQforever
— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 23, 2016
To honor the loss of this musical icon, we have assembled a playlist of the group’s greatest hits, which the music world will no doubt be praising for years to come.