Five years ago on this date, (March 22nd), the world of Hip-Hop lost one of its most enigmatic and lyrically versatile MC’s when it was announced that Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) , one-fourth of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest passed away due to complications from diabetes at his home in San Francisco.
Proudly representing the borough of Queens, New York, Phife Dawg had a few nicknames that spoke to
his flawless capability as an MC, but the “Five Foot Assassin” tag was a calling card and a promise whenever he stepped up to the microphone. Starting out with Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis), Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to form A Tribe Called Quest in high school back in 1985, he helped usher in a new era in Hip-Hop and was one of the architects of the Native Tongues family.
As many would flock to Q-Tip’s charismatic bars and persona, Phife Dawg balanced it out with lyrics that were always introspective as they could be full of swagger like Rod Strickland’s ball-handling skills running point guard for his beloved New York Knicks. Inner turmoil would see Phife notably make a scaled-back appearance on the Beats, Rhymes and Life album in 1996, with The Love Movement being the last ATCQ project in 1998 before the group’s breakup. Phife would go on to release his only full length album Ventilation in 2000. A Tribe Called Quest would reunite for concert performances, and Phife Dawg also came back for the group’s last album, We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service in 2016, laying down bars before passing away.
Phife Dawg’s struggles with diabetes led to him having a kidney transplant in 2008, but it didn’t deter him from making music, releasing singles which included the poignant “Dear Dilla” which was an open letter to the late iconic producer from Detroit, Michigan who had succumbed to lupus. Being open about his condition from his verse on “Oh My God” from the Midnight Marauders album, Phife Dawg made sure to emphatically talk about the need for Black people who were also dealing with diabetes to take care of themselves. It’s an undeniable fact that Phife Dawg left a body of work throughout his career that is beloved by so many legends of the culture and the masses to this day.
In honor of the legacy that Phife Dawg left to the culture, HipHopWired has put together a list of the Five Foot Assassin’s best verses to make people reminisce on how sublimely amazing he was on the microphone and as a lesson to up and coming fans and artists on how someone like him could command the respect of everyone in the industry with his pen. Take a listen to these butter tracks and chime in if the list is on point or if you have another favorite.
A Tribe Called Quest “God Lives Through”
Picture Phife losing a battle, come on, get off it/
Put down the microphone son, surrender, forfeit/
Did I hear something ’bout a crew? What they wanna do?/
You better call Mr. Babyface so he can bring out the cool in you
A Tribe Called Quest “8 Million Stories”
Everybody knows I go to Georgia often/
Got on the flight and I ended up in Boston/
With all these trials and tribulations, yo, I’ve been affected/
And to top it off, Starks got ejected
Phife Dawg “Dear Dilla”
But on your worst day they couldn’t mess with you/
Cats makin’ Ts in remembrance of you/
Least they could do is give your fam a dime or two/
This man gave his heart, this what the f*** y’all do?
A Tribe Called Quest ft. Leaders of The New School “Scenario”
Sleep if you want, Nyquil will help you get your Zs, troop/
But here’s the real scoop/
I’m all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome/
Bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from
Fu-Schnickens ft. Phife Dawg “La Schmoove”
Get on the board lay down the track and I’ll do ten laps/
Pass the pen, pass the pad, and I’ll kick nuff (RAPS)/
Just come inside your jam and witness who is boss/
And it won’t be Tony Danza nor Diana Ross
A Tribe Called Quest “Jazz (We’ve Got)”
Me sweat another? I do my own thing/
Strictly hardcore, not a New Jack Swing/
I grew up as a Christian so to Jah I give thanks/
collect my banks/listen to Shabba Ranks
A Tribe Called Quest “Buggin Out”
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have/
You wanna diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half/
I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path/
mess around with this you catch a size eight up your –
A Tribe Called Quest ft. Busta Rhymes and Redman, “Steppin It Up”
Freestylin son like there was no tomorrow/
hence the reason why your b**** a** would like to follow/
Two different toasters in your chest will make your s*** hollow/
How’s about them apples or is it too hard to swallow?
A Tribe Called Quest, “Hot Sex”
Oops my mistake I didn’t know you went with her/
should I run down the list of all the kids that done hit her?/
dont be bitter/I hear that honey resembles a critter/
heard she likes the two on one like my man John Ritter
A Tribe Called Quest “Electric Relaxation”
I like em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian/
my name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation/
told you in the jam that we can get down/
now let’s knock the boots like the group H-Town
A Tribe Called Quest “Award Tour”
Back in 89 I simply slid up in place/
buddy, buddy, buddy all up in your face/
a lot of kids was busting rhymes but they had no taste/
some said Quest was wack, but now is that the case?
A Tribe Called Quest ft. Kid Hood & Leaders of The New School, “Scenario (Remix)”
Quick is how I flip from the tip of the lip/
punching out hits like Gladys Knight and The Pips
The Five-Foot Assassin has just raided your area/
your booty rhymes are wack and that’s the reason I ain’t hearin’ ya