While an official cause of death has yet to be confirmed, the artist born Malik Taylor was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990 and received a kidney transplant from his wife in 2008, but was back on a waiting list for a new transplant by 2012.
UPDATE (3/23, 1:20 p.m.): Phife Dawg's family has confirmed that he died due to complications from diabetes on Tuesday (March 22). His family, as well as manager, has now released the following statement:
We regret to share the news that on Tuesday March 22nd, 2016, Malik has passed away due to complications resulting from diabetes.
Malik was our loving husband, father, brother and friend. We love him dearly. How he impacted all our lives will never be forgotten. His love for music and sports was only surpassed by his love of God and family.
Dion Liverpool, his manager adds, "While I mourn the loss of my best friend and brother, I also will celebrate his incredible life and contribution to many people's ears across the world. Even with all his success, I have never met a person as humble as he. He taught me that maintaining a positive attitude and outlook can conquer anything. Now my brother is resting in greatness. I'm honored to have crossed paths with him. Riddim Kidz 4eva."
The family asks that their privacy be respected at this difficult time.
Taylor started the iconic rap group in 1985 with his schoolmates Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and they went on to find success with hits like 1991's "Can I Kick It?" Taylor was affectionately referred to as the "Five Foot Assassin," standing noticeably shorter than his bandmates at 5' 3".
Though A Tribe Called Quest formally broke up in in 1998, they reunited a handful of times in the years since, most recently appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in November of last year to mark the 25th anniversary of their seminal 1990 album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Taylor released one solo record under his Phife Dawg pseudonym with 2000's Ventilation: Da LP, but health problems prevented him from recording much material beyond that. According to the BBC, Phife Dawg was working on a solo record titled Muttymorphosis at the time of his death. He described the project as "basically my life story."
Tributes have begun to pour in online for Phife Dawg, with artists like Chuck D, Questlove, Chance the Rapper, Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli and Rob da Bank sharing their condolences on social media. You can see a selection of tributes below.
Additionally, revisit some of Phife Dawg's career highs by taking another look at Exclaim!'s 2008 Timeline feature on A Tribe Called Quest over here.
Rest In Beats PHIFE ATCQ Forever pic.twitter.com/jwYNU6YLJ8— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 23, 2016
Phife forever 1970-2016. 1991 in Sept I went to visit Tariq at Millersville U in the middle of PA (Lancaster). Miles Davis had just passed & I went on a binge to study his post jazz works. Went to Sound Of Market to purchase Nefertiti, In A Silent Way & Live Evil---the only non jazz purchase I made that day ironically was the most jazziest album in that collection: #TheLowEndTheory by @ATCQ. ---it was raining that day so somehow the 1...2 punch of "Nefertiti"/"Fall" just had me in a trance that train trip---even though I suspected there was a possibility that Tribe could possibly have made a better album then their debut (the perfect @@@@@ mic Source rating would be on stands in a week so I was right)---but I knew I wanted to save that listening for when I got up to the campus w Riq.---so some 90mins later when I get to his dorm--we ripped that bad boy open (I can't describe the frustration that was CD packaging in 1991, just imagine the anger that environmentalists feel when all that paper packaging in Beats headphone gets wasted---it's like that)---the sign of a true classic is when a life memory is burnt in your head because of the first time you hear a song. ---Riq & I had this moment a few times, but the look on our faces when we 1st heard "Buggin Out" was prolly Me & Tariq's greatest "rewind selector!" moment in our friendship. (Back then every MC's goal was to have that "rewind!!!" moment. As in to say something so incredible. Or to catch you by surprise that it makes you go "DAAAAAYUM!!!"& you listen over & over---Malik "Phife" Taylor's verse was such a gauntlet/flag planting moment in hip hop. Every hip hop head was just...stunned HE. CAME. FOR. BLOOD & was taking NO prisoners on this album (or ever again) we just kept looking at the speaker on some disbelief old timey radio Suspense episode. & also at each other "Phife is KILLIN!"--by the time we got to "Scenario" I swear to god THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up--(yeah yeah dad I know: "go to Juilliard or Curtis to make a nice living at "real music") but he didn't know that Phife & his crew already wrote my destiny. I ain't look back since. THANK YOU PHIFE!
Sad day for Hip Hop as we lose another! Want to Salute the homie #PhifeDawg You will be missed! Rest In Paradise fam— Mobb Deep (@MobbDeep) March 23, 2016
Hip-hop is living, can't yank the plug— Rob da Bank (@RobdaBank) March 23, 2016
if you do the result, will end up kind of bugged