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Phife Dawg, 45

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The seminal hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest lost a steadying force in what would become a huge comeback year.

Known to fans as Phife Dawg, Malik Taylor was a hip-hop pioneer who was just as comfortable dropping political references as he was self-deprecating rhymes. Brashly diminutive, with a helium-high voice, Phife rose to fame in the early ’90s as a member of A Tribe Called Quest, whose gritty, socially progressive rap took notes from bohemian and jazz influences. A true creative force, Phife kept working until his death due to diabetes-related complications in March.

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Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip pose for a portrait in September 1993, the year A Tribe Called Quest released the album “Midnight Marauders.” That album and Tribe’s 1991 release “The Low End Theory” are widely considered two of hip-hop’s greatest albums.

"Hip-hop and rap word warrior, simple as that. Breathed it and lined rhyme into sport. A true fire social narrator."

- Chuck D
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Phife Dawg attends the 2011 premiere of “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” a documentary that chronicled the group’s rocky 2008 reunion tour, as well as Phife’s diabetes-related health problems.

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A portrait of Phife circa 1990 shows the rapper in his youth. A precocious talent, he met his future collaborator Q-Tip as a child. A Tribe Called Quest also included the producer and D.J. Ali Shaheed Muhammad and, at times, the rapper Jarobi.

It’s an untimely loss for Tribe, whose members had repaired strained relationships to make their first album in 18 years. Seven months after Phife’s death, A Tribe Called Quest released “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service,” which would become their first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 20 years.

"When you say, ‘A Tribe Called Quest,’ we wanted people to say, ‘That whole opus was crazy.’"

- Phife

Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post/Getty Images

Despite deep personal and musical ties, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip remained at odds for years, reuniting only occasionally for shows like this one in 2010 in Columbia, Md. They reconciled in 2015 to write and record the group’s final album.

15 Phife’s age when A Tribe Called Quest was formed
45 peak chart position for their second album “The Low End Theory”
5’3” Phife’s height (hence his nickname, 5-Foot Assassin)

Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

Phife was also active as a solo artist, releasing “Ventilation: Da LP” in 2000. Before his death, he had announced plans to release a second solo album called “Muttymorphosis” and an EP called “Give Thanks.”

Before Phife died, he had finished his second solo album, which he said would tell "basically my life story." The long-awaited record will also serve as the final chapter of his legacy: according to his wife, Deisha Taylor, it will be released sometime in 2017.

2016 in numbers