Notorious B.I.G.’s iconic crown sells for nearly $600,000 at hip-hop auction

A plastic crown worn by rapper Biggie Smalls sold for $594,750 at a Sotheby’s auction.

The Notorious B.I.G. wore and signed the crown just three days before his death in 1997 during a photoshoot. Prior to the auction, its value was estimated between $200,000 and $300,000. But never underestimate the dedication of hip-hop fans. 

Photographer Barron Claiborne has been in possession of the crown since he shot the “Hypnotize” rapper for the cover of Rap Pages magazine. Claiborne was the one who provided the prop in hopes of capturing Biggie as the king of New York. The image of the artist in front of a red background wearing the crown with an ambiguous expression is one of the most iconic portraits in hip-hop. 

“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,” Claiborne said according to CNN. “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.” 

The auction was held on September 15 and featured over 150 hip-hop related items for sale. Among them were 22 autographed love letters written by Tupac Shakur to his high school sweetheart Kathy Loy and an art installation featuring vintage boomboxes called “The Wall of Boom” by DJ Ross Won. 

A portion of the auction’s proceeds will go to charities, including the Queens Public Library Foundation which has dedicated hip-hop community programming. 

In the ’90s, former friends Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur engaged in a public feud often referred to as the East Coast – West Coast rivalry. Their murders remain unsolved and there have been numerous efforts by journalists and documentarians to untangle the events that led to the unraveling of their friendship.

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