Arturo Hilario / El Observador
On Wednesday a veteran of Hip Hop passed away. At only 45 years old, Malik Isaac Taylor, known around the world as Phife Dawg, or the “5 foot assassin”, died of complications from diabetes, which the musician had been battling for years. He was a founding member of the extremely influential Hip Hop group, “A Tribe Called Quest” (also abbreviated as ATCQ), which was also composed of members Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White.
It was late on Tuesday night that Twitter reactions from fans and entertainment elite alike began to outpour to the Queens, New York native. In this day and age death hoaxes come and go within hours, but this one was unfortunately true. Some on Twitter said things like “this can’t be true” to “if you’re joking this is a bad joke” to then unconfirmed reports of the lyricist’s passing. For a brief moment, even this news was trending higher than the tragedy in Brussels and Trump vs Cruz.
Eventually, more mourning came early Wednesday on the East Coast from peers such as Chuck D from provocative New York group “Public Enemy”, as well as actors and performers like Elijah Wood and Justin Timberlake. Metro Atlanta WSB-TV news anchor Mark Arum did a live traffic report in which, playing on the lyrics of one of Phife’s verses, did a back and forth with another anchor. Even on the ESPN broadcast of the Warriors-Clippers game there was a mention of Phife’s passing.
Maybe it’s because unlike some types of Rap/Hip Hop, the music of ATCQ was essentially universally beloved. Their form of “Alternative Hip Hop” had comedic elements and a reality which spoke to every race and spectrum of life experiences. The group could be fun and catchy, or dark and serious.
Phife’s smorgasbord of lyrical content was one component of the group’s staying power. To this day, Phife’s iconic and nimble lyrics are recycled and reused as catchy hints of nostalgia in new music, tv, and in daily life of fans. To some, his rhyme was reason.
Personally, the jazz-infused lyricism, of not only Taylor but of of the group itself, was impacting at a young age. Growing up in the 90’s meant mostly hard-hitting, expletive laced Rap music was on the radio. It was the rarity of groups like ATCQ that brought the edginess of Rap/Hip Hop, the discord of social injustice and everyday struggles, along with the added enlightenment of positivity and hope in a (mostly) cuss-free package.
Diabetes had a prominent role in Phife’s demise throughout the years. As he says himself in documentaries and interviews, he was “addicted” to sugar, and couldn’t stay away from it. It may seem like a silly thing to hear, or an overstatement, but judging by the amount of people that diabetes affects and ultimately those that die from it, it’s not so exaggerated. More so, in the Latino and African-American communities these risks are ultimately higher, and it pains to hear that another victim to diet misallocation, especially one as influential in an art form as Phife, has succumbed to it.
An official press release issued on the group’s website, now emblazoned with a home page memorial to Phife, remarked “Our hearts are heavy. We are devastated. This is something we weren’t prepared for although we all know that life is fleeting. It was no secret about his health and his fight. But the fight for his joy and happiness gave him everything he needed. The fight to keep his family happy, his soul happy and those around him happy, gave him complete and unadulterated joy… until he heeded his fathers(sic) call.”
In the end, Hip Hop fans “took the L” (taking a loss) this week. Rest in peace Malik.