Forever kicking it: Influential Phife Dawg dead at 45

By Steven Turner-Parker


Created by rap group A Tribe Called Quest, one of the most legendary choruses in hip-hop is, “Can I kick it? Yes, you can.” It is with a heavy heart we report that on March 22, Tribe member Phife Dawg passed away at the age of 45 after a long battle with diabetes. The rapper’s health problems and self-proclaimed sugar addiction led to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 2008.

Born Malik Isaac Taylor in Jamaica, Queens, the artist met his future group member and lifelong friend Q-tip in a church when Taylor was just two years old. Eventually, the pair formed A Tribe Called Quest with the additions of Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White. Tribe went on to drop five albums, three of which were regarded as classics. Those included, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders.” All three are masterpieces in their own right and have splendid, soulful vibes. These albums shaped the next generation of artists who entered mainstream hip-hop. The group had a far reach and touched many around the world with their contemporary, cutting-edge style.

As to be expected, the entire hip-hop community felt the loss of Taylor. Many artists paid their respects publicly to mourn his death. QuestLove (member of The Roots) posted a heartfelt response on Instagram about Taylor in which he shares how Tribe’s music inspired the development of his own style. Then, Kendrick Lamar paid tribute to Taylor by having the audience at a show in Sydney, Australia chant “Phife Dawg,” the sound of his name filling the arena. The love shown for Taylor is seemingly endless. Everyone is showing their respect–Nas, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, to name a few. One can truly see how much Taylor meant to the hip-hop genre and community, despite the fact that he wasn’t the most mainstream household name.

A Tribe Called Quest, and its members Phife Dawg, Q-tip, Muhammad and White are often called the pioneers of alternative hip-hop. Musically, what Taylor brought to the sound were his techniques, such as word-play and unique rhymes. When Taylor had the mic, his lyrics rolled off in a smooth, jazz-like pattern, giving the listener a flow that was out of ordinary, yet amazing in sound. Just like the rest of the Tribe members, Taylor gave other aspiring artists the stamp to be different and true to their art–without worrying about being labeled “weirdos.” Taylor and Tribe experimented with their flows more than just the regular gangster 808 beats and regular types of samples, expanding to pop music and jazz to create their own unique music.

One of the main things Taylor will be remembered for are his great verses that gave the group a flavor of originality. Lines like “Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am / Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram” or “I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian / Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation” are just two of the many great opening lines Taylor has contributed to hip-hop.

As long as A Tribe Called Quest’s music is still being played and honored by the community Phife Dawg’s memory will be eternal. So from now on, if someone ever asks you “Can I kick it?” always respond with, “Yes, you can.”

Steven Turner-Parker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Trureligionman.