Tribe Called Quest star Phife Dawg dies aged 45

Gemma Strong

Rap star Phife Dawg, a co-founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, has passed away at the age of 45. The musician had been struggling with ill health and diabetes for many years. So far no official statements have been made about the cause of his death.

Native New Yorker Phife - who was known as The Five Foot Assassin and The Five Footer because of his height, and nicknamed himself the Funky Diabetic - was known for his high-pitched, smooth style and for rapping about human rights and police activism.

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Phife Dawg has sadly passed away at the age of 45

Born Malik Isaac Taylor in 1970, he co-founded the rap group in 1985 with his classmates Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammed. Their biggest commercial hit came in 1991 with the song Can I Kick It?.

Disagreements between Phife and Q-Tip eventually led to the group's split in 1998, although he went on to reunite with the band on a number of occasions after their initial dissolution – partly to help cover the medical costs of his diabetes.

Phife suffered renal failure in 2008 and received a transplant from his wife, but just four years later was back on the waiting list for a new kidney.

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Phife co-founded A Tribe Called Quest in 1985

"It's a strain on me as far as going where I want to go, doing what I want to do," he said. "When I was on dialysis the first time, my stepson was playing basketball [and] I couldn't practice with him. I wanted to go out and run with him and things of that nature, but I didn't feel good."

"It's really a sickness," he added in Beats, Rhymes & Life, Michael Rapaport's candid 2011 documentary on the group. "Like straight-up drugs. I'm just addicted to sugar."

Reflecting on his career last year, the rapper said: "It's odd in a good way. I never expected it to be this big. I just thought we were going to be celebs in the hood. Like, honestly, within 25 years, when you go to places like Australia and Japan and Amsterdam and London and Germany and these people know [the songs] word-for-word, it's crazy."

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