Malik Izaak Taylor (November 20, 1970 – March 22, 2016), known professionally as Phife Dawg (or simply Phife), was an American rapper and a member of the group A Tribe Called Quest with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (and for a short time Jarobi White). He was also known as the “Five Foot Assassin” and “The Five Footer”, because he stood at 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m).
Phife Dawg initially formed A Tribe Called Quest, then simply named Quest, with his childhood friend Q-Tip in 1985; the group was later expanded with the addition of Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. A Tribe Called Quest were closely associated with fellow hip-hop acts De La Soul and Jungle Brothers, with the groups being collectively known as the Native Tongues. A Tribe Called Quest were initially offered a demo deal by Geffen Records in 1989, but signed to Jive Records to release their 1990 début People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Phife Dawg’s contributions to the group increased on their second album, 1991’s The Low End Theory, which saw Phife—often referring to himself as “the Five Foot Assassin”—rapping about social and political issues; the record has since been acclaimed by critics and fellow musicians. The group released three further albums throughout the decade—Midnight Marauders in 1993, Beats, Rhymes and Life in 1996, and The Love Movement in 1998—before disbanding as a result of conflict both with their record label and between members. The band’s troubles, especially the tense relationship between Phife and Q-Tip, was featured in the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, directed by Michael Rapaport.
In addition to being a member of pioneering hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, Phife performed on songs with other artists. He was featured on the Fu-Schnickens song “La Schmoove”, Diamond D’s “Painz & Strife” along with Pete Rock and Chi-Ali’s “Let the Horns Blow” with Dres, Al’ Tariq and Trugoy. In 2000, he released his debut solo album, Ventilation: Da LP. In 2013, it was reported that Phife was working on a solo album titled MUTTYmorPHosis. A single titled “Nutshell” was released online in April 2016 along with a posthumously released music video.
It was announced in February 2017 that Phife’s second studio album, posthumously titled Forever, will be released later in the year. The single “Wanna Dance” was released that month and features Dwele and Mike City. The album is set to feature the previously released singles “Nutshell” and “Dear Dilla”.
Phife Dawg was of Trinidadian descent. He was an avid sports fan and was featured on various radio shows and sports programming on ESPN. He was also a playable character in the video games NBA 2K7 and NBA 2K9.
Phife was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in May 1990. Conflicting reports indicate it as type 1, while other sources report it as type 2. He mentioned being a “funky diabetic” in the single “Oh My God” from the group’s third album, Midnight Marauders. After being on a waiting list for two years, Phife received a kidney transplant from his wife in 2008. This was unsuccessful, however, and by 2012 he once again required a transplant.
Phife died in his home in Contra Costa County, California on March 22, 2016 due to complications relating to diabetes at the age of 45.