Today, hip-hip legend Phife Dawg would have celebrated his 49th birthday. Sadly, Phife (born Malik Izaak Taylor) passed away on March 20th, 2017 due to complications resulting from diabetes, making him one of an unreasonably long list of incredible artists to leave us that year.
Phife Dawg co-founded universally renowned hip-hop crew A Tribe Called Quest with MC/producer Q-Tip, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White (who bowed out after their first album) in Queens in 1985. Along with groups like De La Soul and Jungle Brothers (known collectively as Native Tongues), A Tribe Called Quest helped shift the hip-hop zeitgeist heading into the genre’s 90’s golden age. Known for their positive-minded, Afrocentric lyrics and pioneering use of eclectic sampling, Phife, ATCQ, and the rest of the Native Tongues flipped the script on rap’s then-inseparable tie to street cred and defiant, gangster bravado, making infectiously chilled-out, intelligent, feel-good hip-hop.
Phife was a creative force up until the very end: Along with contributing excellent work to A Tribe Called Quest’s 2016 final album We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, it was Phife who came up with the album’s name. According to an article in the New York Times, the other members didn’t know what Phife’s title was supposed to mean, but kept it in place as a tribute after his death. Whoever Phife had been trying to thank, Tribe co-opted the message of gratitude to apply to their fallen brother.
Phife—”The Five Foot Assassin”; “The Funky Diabetic”—left an indelible mark on hip-hop, and the lives of many fans, in his time on this earth. You can feel his incredible presence and characteristic “self-deprecating swagger” on all of his recordings, and especially in Tribe’s legendary live performances. Celebrate Phife’s birthday by watching these classic live performances from A Tribe Called Quest’s heyday:
Phife rocks the Arsenio Hall Show stage with Tribe and Leaders of the New School in this performance from 1992, courtesy of YouTube user elkashel:
A Tribe Called Quest performs “Can I Kick It” on Showtime At The Apollo to an ecstatic audience, from ATribeCalledQuestVEVO:
And, finally, you can watch some prime vintage Phife in A Tribe Called Quest’s 1989 concert film The Art Of Moving Butts In Europe HERE (when Jarobi White was still part of the Tribe).
Happy Birthday, Phife. Thank you for your service…
[Originally published 11/20/17]