Rapper Phife Dawg Of A Tribe Called Quest Dies
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One of the founding members of the seminal rap group A Tribe Called Quest has died. Malik Taylor, otherwise known as Phife Dawg, was just 45 when he died yesterday. He spent most of his life wrestling with the disease that contributed to his death, diabetes. He once even called himself the funky diabetic in a song. Phife Dawg underwent a kidney transplant in 2008. Last October, he told our Kelly McEvers that while he faced uncertainty, he was still optimistic about his health.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MALIK TAYLOR: I really, really can't complain. I could, but I won't because God is really, really a good god.
CORNISH: NPR music writer Kris Ex says Phife Dawg's death still came as a surprise.
KRIS EX, BYLINE: I think we get used to the idea of people passing away from violence or from unforeseen acts suddenly, but when disease takes someone suddenly and so young, it's a more jolting experience.
CORNISH: Phife Dawg grew up in Queens. He met and played little league with his future group mate Jonathan Davis, who became Q-Tip. Phife was drawn to the pop of "Soul Train" on TV and to the MCs he heard rapping at the block parties he'd sneak out to when he visited his grandmother's house. By the time he was a teenager, he went by Phife Dawg and had come together with Ali Shaeed Muhammed and Q-Tip to form A Tribe Called Quest.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TAYLOR: All I remember back then is Q-Tip telling me I should come to the studio. And, you know, I didn't take it seriously right away, you know what I mean? So once I finally made up my mind to go, I pretty much never looked back.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN I KICK IT?")
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Follow us for the funky behavior. Make a note on the rhythm we gave you. Feel free. Drop your pants. Yank your hair. Do you like the garments that we wear? I instruct you to be the obeyer.
CORNISH: Music writer Kris Ex says on songs like this one, the hit "Can I Kick It?" from their 1990 debut album, Phife Dawg cuts through.
EX: A Tribe Called Quest was very much dashikis and Ethiopian spices and Moroccan food - just a very worldly experience. And Phife was, like, barbecue sauce and ketchup. The way that he presented himself, the way that he carried himself, you always had this idea that this was the street guy or the corner guy or the guy on the stoop that you could get down with, that you could crack jokes with, that you could understand. His presence let us know that these were regular people, that they were not weird hippies or people disconnected from our reality.
CORNISH: A Tribe Called Quest wasn't able to stay together, breaking up and reuniting over the years amid tensions. To this day, the group is seen as set apart from the '90s-era gangster rap that dominated pop charts.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TAYLOR: They might look at us as gentler, but don't get it twisted. We love NWA. We love Public Enemy. We love, you know, Boogie Down Productions, Mobb Deep, you know, a little bit of everybody, you know what I mean? But we chose to make our own lane, you know what I mean? And that's basically what it boiled down to.
CORNISH: That is Malika Taylor, the rapper Phife Dawg. He died at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday from complications of diabetes. He was 45.
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