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New American Songbook: Remembering Phife Dawg

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The recent death of Malik Taylor, known more popularly as Phife Dawg, was marked by dozens of memorials and internet eulogies from all corners of hip hop. Phife was well-known for his role as a founding member of the seminal hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, alongside rapper Q-Tip and DJ Ali Shaheed Mohammed.

Phife’s lyrics epitomize the playfulness of early-nineties New York hip hop—where Q-Tip often carried the conscious-rap banner, Phife was the prankster: funny, audacious and completely at ease behind the mic. It’s hard to find a verse that fully displays Phife’s range, but the opener from Tribe’s 1993 release ‘We Can Get Down’ comes close.

Internal tensions in A Tribe Called Quest led to the group's dissolution in the late 90s, with a subsequent reunion in 2006. Phife released a solo album in 2000. He was 45 years old when he died.