A plastic crown worn by the Notorious B.I.G. during the rapper’s “King of New York” photoshoot — originally purchased for $6 before the March 1997 photograph was taken — sold for $595,000 Tuesday night at Sotheby’s first-ever auction dedicated to hip-hop memorabilia.
The crown — sold by photographer Barron Claiborne, who shot the iconic Rap Pages cover just three days before Biggie’s March 9th, 1997 death — well exceeded its pre-auction estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The item was autographed by both the rapper and the photographer and included three prints from the photoshoot.
“This crown is a novelty item; I bought it at a place on Broadway called Gordon’s,” Claiborne told the New York Post. “Without Biggie, the crown would not be worth [six figures]. I only paid six bucks for it.”
As Sotheby’s noted of the item, the famed image of B.I.G. almost didn’t happen, as Bad Boy Records head Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs complained that the cheap crown would make Biggie look like “the Burger King.” “Biggie was open to the idea, resulting in one of the most recognizable images in hip-hop culture and one of the most famous hip-hop portraits ever taken,” Sotheby’s said.
Claiborne added in a statement: “With the tragic events that unfolded just days after the photoshoot, this image of a crowned Notorious B.I.G. became much more than a portrait — the image transformed Biggie Smalls into an aristocratic or saint-like figure, forever immortalized as not only the King of New York but a king of hip-hop music and one of the greatest artists of all time.”
Another item that well exceeded its pre-auction estimate by a staggering 50 times was an original, sealed 12″ copy of Rammellzee vs. K-Rob “Beat Bop” featuring artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which sold for $126,000, instantly making it “the most expensive hip-hop vinyl record sold at auction,” Sotheby’s declared.
An archive of Tupac Shakur’s teenaged handwritten love letters to a fellow student also drew a high bid of $75,000, while DJ Ross One’s “Wall of Boom” art installation — featuring a stack of 32 rare and vintage, and in some cases still functioning, 1980s boomboxes — sold for $113,000. A portion of Sotheby’s proceeds from the auction benefitted the Queens Public Library Foundation to support their hip-hop programs and Building Beats, a non-profit community organization focused on DJ & music programs.