We salute the Five Foot Assassin on his birthday! The man born Malik Taylor would have been 47 years old today (Nov. 20).
On March 22, 2016, hip-hop lost a legend with the passing of Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor at age 45. As cliche as the words sound, Phife Dawg’s presence simply can’t be described as anything other than legendary. He influenced an entire generation of rappers and cemented a creative movement in hip-hop that transformed the genre both musically and culturally. Arguably the most relatable member of A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ); he was the average Joe to Q-Tip’s "abstract" eccentric, and Phife’s memorable moments are plenty.
His Verse on "Electric Relaxation"“I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian…”
Phife’s opening verse on one of ATCQ’s “Electric Relaxation” is one of the most oft-quoted lines in hip-hop. No need for a breakdown on how he embraced women of color with one simple line, connecting the dots between often exploited communities, while raising a glass to their beauty. The line was just dope— and as a result, ended up on t-shirts, co-opted by other rappers, and ultimately remains one of both Phife’s and Tribe’s most memorable moments.
His Verse on "Scenario"“Hey, Bo knows this, and Bo knows that/But Bo don’t know jack, cuz Bo can’t rap”
Phife stayed having recitable opening lines. And on 1991’s “Scenario” featuring Leaders of the New School, he killed it on a song that was full of quotables. “Hey, Bo knows this, and Bo knows that/But Bo don’t know jack, cuz Bo can’t rap."
His opening verse on TLC's 'Crazy Sexy Cool'
You may’ve forgotten that Phife opened TLC’s 1994 album, Crazy Sexy Cool, spitting on the intro and properly introducing the trio. Considering that the release is TLC’s most successful project to date (it went diamond) The Five Footer's appearance becomes even more significant.
While his influence on hip-hop is undeniable, those who knew him remember that he was a diehard sports fan. In late 2015, Phife went ESPN to talk with Scott Van Pelt to talk sports, including his love for Ohio State football, North Carolina basketball and the Knicks. His appearance continued to speak to his influence across pop culture spaces, and also reminded us why he was one of the genuinely coolest guys in music.
His verse on "Buggin Out""I never half step cuz I'm not a half stepper"
After only appearing sporadically on Tribe's debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Phife's verse on "Buggin Out" has been dubbed his "coming out" party on the classic follow-up, The Low End Theory mostly because the opening was so memorable. People always easily related to what Phife rapped. He wasn't preachy, he talked to listeners and his cleverness came from his honesty on the mic. This song in particular is full of one-liners— "I float like gravity, never had a cavity/Got more rhymes than the Winans got family"— making it one of his most memorable verses in a long career full of them.