By Jason Newman, rollingstone.com
Malik Taylor, the rapper known as Phife Dawg whose nimble, clever rhymes helped launch A Tribe Called Quest to both commercial and critical success, died Wednesday at the age of 45. Rolling Stone has confirmed the rapper’s death, though an official statement has yet to be released.
While the cause of death has yet to be announced, Taylor had 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.
“I am in a good spot, but I have my good days and I have my bad days,” he said at the time. “But I’m more or less in a good spot, so I can’t really complain.” In the same interview, Taylor revealed plans to release the J Dilla-produced “Nutshell,” the first single off a planned EP titled Give Thanks. The rapper released a video preview of the song, though a full version has yet to be released. Prior to his death, Taylor had also been at work on Muttymorphosis, his new LP that would have functioned as “basically my life story” that he hoped to have released later this year.