He received a kidney transplant in 2008 after suffering renal failure from complications attributed to 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," his family said in a statement released Wednesday.
His bandmates expressed their sadness and thanked fans for their support.
"Our hearts are heavy. We are devastated," the remaining A Tribe Called Quest members wrote in a statement. "This is something we weren't prepared for although we all know that life is fleeting."
RIP to phife dog of tribe called quest pic.twitter.com/f4t5fvg4WD— @djchuckchillout
An official statement has yet to be released, but fans, friends and colleagues shared tributes and memories online.
Phife-HipHop & Rap word Warrior, simple as that.Breathed it & lined rhyme into Sport.A true fire Social Narrator my bro #RIBeats ATCQforever— @MrChuckD
Rest In Beats PHIFE ATCQ Forever pic.twitter.com/jwYNU6YLJ8— @MrChuckD
Socially minded lyrics, jazz-influenced sound
Phife and his childhood best friend Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis) co-founded A Tribe Called Quest in Queens, NY in the late 1980s along with schoolmate Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Joined for a time by collaborator Jarobi White, the group was known for a string of acclaimed albums and multiple hits, including Can I Kick It?, Scenario, Bonita Applebum and I Left My Wallet in El Segundo.
A Tribe Called Quest cemented its status as hip hop innovators and nimble wordsmiths with subsequent releases The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, considered by many to be among the most influential and enduring rap albums ever.
The follow-ups Beats, Rhymes and Life and The Love Movement rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts, but the progressive troupe would eventually dissolve.
His bandmates paid tribute to his talent on Wednesday.
"His music and what he's contributed is seismic and hard to measure," the group's statement read.
"He's affected us as much as he's affected all of you. We're inspired by his daily joy and courage. He wasn't in pain. He was happy. "
Actor-filmmaker Michael Rapaport detailed the group's rise and break-up in the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhyme & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.
"Even though I knew I had [diabetes], I was in denial," he said in the documentary. "You have to accept it. If you don't accept it, it's going to kick your ass."
Most recently, A Tribe Called Quest reunited in November for an appearance on The Tonight Show to mark the 25th anniversary of their debut album — celebrated with a re-issue featuring remixed tracks by hit contemporary producers Pharrell Williams, CeeLo Green and J. Cole. The group's performance of Can I Kick It? was billed as the first televised A Tribe Called Quest show in 15 years.
Phife had been at work on a new album, but released just one single, Dear Dilla, before his death.