Malik Taylor, the wry and agile rapper known as Phife Dawg, who as a member of A Tribe Called Quest brought left-of-center hip-hop to the masses, died on Tuesday at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was 45.
Mr. Taylor’s family and his manager, Dion Liverpool, confirmed the death and said the cause was complications of diabetes.
Mr. Taylor learned he had diabetes in 1990 — “When was the last time you heard a funky diabetic?” he once rapped — and received a kidney transplant in 2008. His health problems and self-proclaimed sugar addiction were a point of tension in the 2011 documentary“Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” which followed the group during a reunion tour.
A Tribe Called Quest formed in New York in 1985, when Mr. Taylor was 15 years old, and went on to release five albums, including the jazz-sampling rap classics “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders.”
With hits like “Scenario,” “Can I Kick It?” and “Bonita Applebum,” the group sold millions of albums while also serving as a more socially conscious and overtly political alternative to the gangster rap and pop rhymers of the day.
The group disbanded for the first time in 1998.
On recordings, the proudly diminutive Phife Dawg played a more frenetic and high-pitched counterpart to his childhood friend Q-Tip (born Jonathan Davis), A Tribe Called Quest’s lead M.C. The group also included the D.J. and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and occasionally the rapper Jarobi White.
Phife Dawg and Q-Tip’s repartee was the most obvious manifestation of Tribe’s magnetic, brotherly bond, a chemistry that was almost palpable on record. “You on point, Phife?” Q-Tip volleyed to his fellow M.C. on “Check the Rhime.”
“All the time, Tip,” Phife Dawg replied.
“We bounce off of each other like yin and yang, nice and smooth, you know?” Mr. Taylor said of the partnership in an interview last year, as A Tribe Called Quest marked the 25th anniversary of its debut album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.”
Mr. Taylor added that he never expected the group to be so successful: “I just thought we were going to be celebs in the hood.”
Malik Isaac Taylor was born in Queens on Nov. 20, 1970, and throughout his career referred frequently to his home base, Linden Boulevard and 192nd Street.
After meeting as children in church and playing Little League baseball together, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Davis began experimenting with music as protégés of the local Native Tongues Posse, which also included the group De La Soul. A Tribe Called Quest went on to sign with Jive Records on the strength of its 1989 demo tape.
In a recent post on Reddit, Mr. Taylor said of making music: “We were happy to be doing something to keep ourselves out of trouble. Eventually we were able to take care of our families. We were happy.”
After a decade together, A Tribe Called Quest split up after the release of its fifth album, “The Love Movement.” In a review of its last concert together, Ben Ratliff wrote in The New York Times that the group had produced “music that a fan could grow up with a bit rather than discarding after adolescence.”
Phife Dawg released his only solo album, “Ventilation: Da LP,” in 2000. Before his death he had announced plans for further releases, even teasing online a new single, “Nutshell,” produced by J Dilla.
A Tribe Called Quest reunited multiple times, including at the Rock the Bells festival in 2004, 2008 and 2010 and more recently in 2013, as an opening act for two New York shows on Kanye West’s “Yeezus” tour. Q-Tip called those the group’s final concerts.
The documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life,” directed by the actor Michael Rapaport, chronicled the constant tensions over control and leadership among A Tribe Called Quest’s members.
“I think it is ludicrous that we are not performing together,” Mr. Taylor told Rolling Stone last year. “We’re doing the fans a great injustice by not getting together and rocking.”
A Tribe Called Quest performed once more together as a quartet, reuniting on “The Tonight Show” in November for a vibrant rendition of “Can I Kick It?” Phife Dawg, in his hometown Mets gear, referred to the politics of the day in invoking the name of David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York: “Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor?/You’ll be doing us a really big favor.”
His family said of Mr. Taylor in a statement, “His love for music and sports was only surpassed by his love of God and family.” Information on survivors was not available.
At a concert in Australia on Wednesday, Kendrick Lamar led the crowd in a chant of “Phife! Dawg!” and thanked the rapper “for allowing me to do what I’m doing on this stage.”
The rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy responded to Mr. Taylor’s death on Twitter, calling Phife Dawg a “word warrior, simple as that. Breathed it & lined rhyme into sport. A true fire social narrator.”
Questlove of the Roots, in a tribute on Instagram, said that Mr. Taylor was an inspiration from the moment he heard the track “Scenario,” in which Phife Dawg raps, “I’m all that and then some/short, dark and handsome.”
“THAT was the moment I knew I wanted to make THIS type of music when I grew up,” Questlove wrote.
More tributes poured into social media as the news of the death spread. The hip-hop veteran Russell Simmons called him “one of the greatest to bless the mic,” while Mark Ronson said he made “some of the most beloved hip-hop ever.”