Malik Taylor, the Queens, New York rapper who as Phife Dawg in A Tribe Called Quest ushered in a slice of hip-hop that blended jazz with hard hitting rhymes and witty one-liners has passed away. He was 45 years old. The news was first reported by DJ Chuck Chillout and confirmed by Statik Selektah though no official statement has been released.

As Phife Dawg, Taylor’s nimble flows in A Tribe Called Quest catapulted the group to critical and commercial success beginning with 1991’s The Low End Theory. Over the years he had battled numerous health issues including needing a kidney transplant in 2008 due to his long battle with type 1 diabetes, which he revealed in May 1990. Nicknaming himself “The Funky Diabetic” on “Oh My God” from the group’s third album Midnight Marauders, Phife Dawg owned his life with deprecating wit and humor. He toyed with lines regarding his height and sex life and still managed to rap about being 5’3″ and having crushes on pop stars.

In the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Taylor mentioned his battle with diabetes as a sickness. It didn’t detour him from performing live with Q-Tip, Jarobi & Ali Shaheed Muhammad. He was a small part of the group’s 1990 debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm, appearing on four tracks including “Can I Kick It?” but beginning with 1991’s The Low End Theory, Phife Dawg was front and center next to Q-Tip, the gruff, rap conscious element next to Tip’s chill ideas and existentialism. Phife appeared on all five A Tribe Called Quest albums including their maligned 1996 follow-up to Midnight Marauders in Beats, Rhymes & Life and their final album, 1998’s The Love Movement.

An avid sports fan, Phife Dawg appeared in two editions of 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series, the 2K7 and 2K9 editions as a playable character. He guested on ESPN’s Sportscenter and was one of the first to incorporate wearing sports gear from his favorite teams in videos. He rooted for his beloved New York Jets and Knicks and constantly rocked gear from the North Carolina Tar Heels as well as the Atlanta Braves.

Born in November 1970, Phife would meet then best friend Q-Tip when the two were only 2 years old. Although the duo had become best friends, they were far apart musically when People’s Instinctive Travels arrived in 1990. The original plan was for Phife & Jarobi to start their own group while A Tribe Called Quest was just Ali Shaheed & Q-Tip. By the time 1991 arrived and Q-Tip pestered Phife about being more serious on records, A Tribe Called Quest became fully formed and had a duo that played off each other perfectly.

Turning 25 this year, the group’s Low End Theory album marked a significant shift in the identity of East Coast hip-hop, allowing room for Q-Tip’s esoteric and nativism to be married with Phife Dawg’s down to Earth battle raps. It helped create the Native Tongues movement which included New York/New Jersey area artists such as The Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, De La Soul and UK rapper Monie Love. The album eventually garnered platinum sales and became canon in regards to the implementation of jazz in hip-hop. Two years later, the married would hit its high point as Midnight Marauders firmly established Phife Dawg as one of the more quotable rappers in music. But by then the fissions had begun showing. A dismal effort with Beats, Rhymes & Life eventually signaled the end of A Tribe Called Quest with 1998’s The Love Movement. Since then the group has reunited, broken up, fought and also discussed a potential reunion.

Their last televised performance came last year as part of a promotional tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of People’s Instinctive Travels…. Phife Dawg during his time away from A Tribe Called Quest released a solo album, Ventilation in 2000 and had planned on releasing a second album, Muttymorphasis this year with production from 9th Wonder, Nottz & Phife himself. An EP, Give Thanks was set to be released this year featuring a Phife & J Dilla collaboration, “Nutshell”.