Sotheby’s hip hop auction includes Biggie Smalls’ crown from ‘King of New York’ photo & more gems

September 11, 2020

Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” leather jackets; Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s

Next week, Sotheby’s will host its first-ever hip hop auction with iconic memorabilia from the music movement that got its start in New York City. One of the biggest items of the auction, which will be held live on September 15, is the crown worn by Brooklyn-born Biggie Smalls during the 1997 “King of New York” photo shoot, the last portrait of the rapper before he was killed just days later. Another amazing item at the auction includes over 20 love letters penned by a 16-year-old Tupac Shakur to his high school sweetheart.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The auction features artifacts, photography, art, vintage and modern fashion, jewelry, and rare items like posters and publications. According to Sotheby’s, most items offered in the sale have been consigned directly by artists or their estates.

The crown worn by Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G., is being offered by photographer Barron Claiborne, who has possessed the crown since the famous photoshoot in 1997. In addition to the crown, signed by Biggie and Claiborne, the lot includes three prints of the K.O.N.Y. photograph.

“After 23 years in my possession, I’m very excited to share this iconic piece of Hip Hop history with the public,” Claiborne said. “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.”

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Tupac Shakur’s love letters were written to his high school sweetheart Kathy Loy during their time together at Baltimore School for the Arts. The lot includes 42 pages on 24 sheets of paper and a greeting card all signed by the late artist, chronicling the couple’s two-month romance. Not only do the letters reveal Shakur’s early writing style and vulnerability, but they also illustrate some doubts he had about his future as a rapper.

Other highlights of the auction include the Salt-N-Pepa “Push It” leather jackets the NYC natives wore in a commercial that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl, Fab 5 Freddy’s “MTV” ring, and Slick Rick’s eyepatch. The auction also includes experiences with “hip hop legends,” including a private studio session with The God MC Rakim Allah, a couture design session with Harlem’s Dapper Dan, and a wine tasting with Grammy Award-winning rapper Big Daddy Kane.

“Since its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s, Hip Hop has become a global cultural force, whose massive influence continues to shape all realms of culture: music, fashion, design, art, film, social attitudes, language, and more. This sale is a celebration of the origins and early eras of that influence,” Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist in Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Department, said in a press release.

“We are pleased to announce the auction with two renowned and beloved icons whose lives and lyricism continue to resonate — Biggie and Tupac — with lots that offer an introspective look, in their own way, at the personalities behind their respective public personas.”

A dedicated exhibit for the hip hop auction will be on view by appointment only at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from September 11 through September 15. The exhibition is also available to view online.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Queens Public Library Foundation in support of its Hip Hop Programs and Building Beats, a nonprofit group that teaches tech and leadership skills to underserved youth through music programs. See all 120 lots up for auction here.


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