Rapper Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest dies at 45

Story highlights

  • The rapper was childhood friends with fellow group member Q-Tip
  • He said he never expected their success

(CNN)Rapper Malik Taylor, better known to fans as Phife Dawg of the group A Tribe Called Quest, died Tuesday of complications from diabetes, according to a statement from his family and manager. He was 45.

Taylor had long suffered from health issues associated with his having Type 1 diabetes. In 2008, he underwent a kidney transplant.
"Malik was our loving husband, father, brother and friend," the statement read. "We love him dearly. How he impacted all our lives will never be forgotten. His love for music and sports was only surpassed by his love of God and family."
    Born in the Jamaica area of Queens in New York City, he became childhood friends with future group mate Q-Tip. The pair met at the age of 2 in church and would eventually become a part of A Tribe Called Quest, which was formed in 1985 with classmate Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
    Their 1990 debut album "People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm" featured the single "Can I Kick It" and Taylor's high-pitched voice became a distinctive part of their sound. Their sophomore album, "The Low End Theory," spurred the hit "Check the Rhime" which included the now iconic call and response "You on point Phife/All the time Tip."
    Taylor told Rolling Stone in 2015 that he was not even originally supposed to be part of the group, having appeared on the first album as a featured guest.
    "Me and (Tribe member Jarobi) were supposed to do our own group," Taylor said. "A Tribe Called Quest was really (members) Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and they were going to put us out there. I was really a support thing for Tip and Ali."
    Tribe would go on to release five albums and become one of the most respected groups in hip hop. Taylor said in the Rolling Stone interview that he was shocked by their success.
    "I never expected it to be this big," he said. "I just thought we were going to be celebs in the hood."
    Infighting led to a split in 1998 and both Phife and Q-Tip launched solo careers with the latter's being more successful than the former. The 2011 documentary "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest" was directed by actor Michael Rapaport and traced the group's influence as well as its eventual disbanding.
    "Myself, Kanye (West), we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Tribe's album," music impresario Pharrell Williams says in the trailer for the film.
    The group reunited in 2008 for a series of concerts and announced in 2013 that they would no longer be performing together.
    Taylor's death was mourned on social media by both fans and the famous.

    Heaven just got a Hip Hop Legend. #ripphifedawg

    A photo posted by @ludacris on

    In 2015, Tribe celebrated the 25th anniversary of its debut album by releasing a commemorative issue of "People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm," which featured remixes from artists J. Cole, Pharrell, and Cee-Lo Green. Group members also appeared on Jimmy Fallon's late night show to perform in support of the album.