Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, who along with Q-Tip stood at the front of A Tribe Called Quest, one of hip-hop’s most legendary groups, has passed away at the age of forty-five. Pitchfork reports that Phife was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990 and that he was the recipient of a kidney transplant in 2008. The cause of his death is not yet known.
Phife formed A Tribe Called Quest with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad in 1988, and over ten quick years the trio would reshape sound and feel of hip-hop. Tribe’s jazzy production—most notably on 1991’s The Low End Theory—and Phife and Tip’s breezy lyrical interplay brought a new lightness to the genre.
Late last year, the group reissued their 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. They appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform album cut “Can I Kick It” in what is now their final public appearance as a trio.
In addition to his work with Tribe, Phife released a solo record—2000’s Ventilation: Da LP—and guested on numerous rapper’s tracks, including a cheeky take on The Low End Theory’s “Check the Rhime” recorded with Shaquille O’Neal for the basketball star’s 1993 album. As Rolling Stone reports, though, Phife’s health kept him from working as often as he’d like. ““I am in a good spot, but I have my good days and I have my bad days,” he told the magazine last year. “But I’m more or less in a good spot, so I can’t really complain.”
Below, watch Phife and Q-Tip pop up on Letterman to trade verses on “Check the Rhime.”