Intro to Phife Dawg: 8 Songs You Need to Know

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest photographed on April 27, 2011 in New York City.  

Hip-hop lost a gifted rhymer with the recent passing of Phife Dawg (real name Malik Taylor), a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, who died last month at the age of 45 due to complications from diabetes. The Queens native started pumping out his witty rhymes as a teen in the late ‘80s, forming what would become a pioneering rap troupe with childhood friends, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (as well as on-and-off member Jarobi White).

Phife Dawg, Founding Member of A Tribe Called Quest, Dead at 45

Phife's high-pitched bars kept it real about his short stature and battle with diabetes on top of Tribe’s jazzy backdrops. He released his solo studio effort Ventilation in 2000, and prior to his death, revealed plans to release the LP Give Thanks. With the premiere of his J Dilla produced single "Nutshell," which debuted today (April 6), here is a playlist of Phife standouts for the uninitiated.

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A Tribe Called Quest “Check the Rhime”

Album: The Low End Theory (1991)

Beloved Bars: “Now here's a funky introduction of how nice I am/ Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram"

Fun Fact: Much of the music video was filmed on top of Nu-Clear Cleaners on Linden Boulevard in Laurelton, Queens, the group's stomping grounds. The business is still there today.

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A Tribe Called Quest “8 Million Stories”

Album: Midnight Marauders (1993)

Beloved Bars: "With all these trials and tribulations, yo, I’ve been affected. And to top it off, Starks got ejected" 

Fun Facts: Phife was known for being an avid sports fans, especially for his hometown Knicks. The John Starks line on this solo Phife joint (Q-Tip lends a hook towards the end) about a no-good, very-bad-day, was an example of one of his many ESPN-ready references.

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A Tribe Called Quest “Can I Kick It?”

Album: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)

Beloved Bars: "Right now, Phife is a poem sayer / At times, I’m a studio conveyor/ Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor? You’ll be doing us a really big favor"

Fun Facts: David Dinkins went on to beat David Koch and become the first -- and only thus far -- African American mayor of New York from 1990 to 1993. 

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A Tribe Called Quest “Buggin' Out”

Album: The Low End Theory (1991)

Beloved Bars: "Yo microphone check one, two, what is this? The five foot assassin with the roughneck business"

Backstory: Phife embraced his five-foot-three height with self-given nicknames like the “Five Foot Assassin” and “The Five Footer." 

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A Tribe Called Quest “Scenario”

Album: The Low End Theory (1991)

Beloved Bar: "Bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from" 

Backstory: The song's music video features several high-profile cameos, including Spike Lee and De La Soul. 

Mac Miller Delivers Phife Dawg Tribute '5 Foot Assassin'


A Tribe Called Quest “Award Tour”

Album: Midnight Marauders (1993)

Beloved Bars: "The wackiest crews try to diss, it makes me laugh. When my track record’s longer than a DC-20 aircraft. So, next time that you think you want something here. Make something def or take that garbage to St. Elsewhere.

Backstory: Over 15 cities are mentioned in the song. Parts of "Award Tour" have been referenced on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Kanye West’s “The Glory.”

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A Tribe Called Quest “Electric Relaxation”

Album: Midnight Marauders (1993)

Beloved Bars: "Let me hit it from the back, girl I won't catch a hernia/ Bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman's Furniture"

Backstory: The single peaked on four Billboard charts in 1994, including the Hot Rap Songs charts. 

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A Tribe Called Quest “Oh My God”

Album: Midnight Marauders (1993)

Beloved Bars: "When's the last time you heard a funky diabetic?"

Backstory: Phife was open about his battle with diabetes, particularly after receiving a kidney transplant following in 2008. He pointed the spotlight to his health struggles in the 2012 documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. “I’ve never really been a crybaby, so I just go through it and do what I have to do,” he said in an October 2013 feature with Diabetes Forecast. “But I’m going to live. Believe that.”