By Brecken Branstrator
The plastic crown worn by rapper Biggie Smalls in one of his most iconic photographs garnered nearly $600,000 at auction Tuesday, easily besting it pre-sale estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
New York—A plastic crown worn by one of hip-hop’s most revered artists in an iconic photo sold for more than half a million dollars at auction Tuesday.

The Notorious B.I.G.’s headpiece from a 1997 photoshoot led Sotheby’s “Hip Hop” auction in New York, a sale that celebrated the history and cultural impact hip-hop has had on art and culture from the late 1970s through its Golden Age of the mid-1980s and mid-1990s to the present.

The auction included art, photography, vintage and modern fashion, historic and new jewels, important publications, and rare ephemera like flyers and posters, many of which were consigned directly to Sotheby’s by hip-hop artists and figures.

Fittingly, the sale’s top lot was the crown used to make the Notorious B.I.G., real name Christopher Wallace and also known as Biggie or Biggie Smalls, look like New York royalty.

Wallace donned the crown—plastic with multicolored plastic gems—during the iconic 1997 K.O.N.Y. (King of New York) portrait session with photographer Barron Claiborne, which took place just three days before Biggie was murdered in Los Angeles.

In photographing the rapper for the cover of Rap Pages Magazine, Claiborne’s idea was to portray him as the city’s king sitting on his throne but in a simpler way, providing a contrast to the overindulgent imagery of the late ‘90s.

Claiborne is the one who put the crown up for auction, as it has been in his possession since the 1997 photo shoot.

20200917 Crown insertAt left, the iconic K.O.N.Y photo of Biggie Smalls taken by Barron Claiborne for the cover of Rap Pages Magazine. At right, a closeup of the inscription on the inside of the piece—“Crown from Biggie KONY Shot NYC 3-6-97” and both artists’ signatures.

The interior of the crown bears the inscription “Crown from Biggie KONY Shot NYC 3-6-97” and bears the signatures of both Biggie and Claiborne.

Included in the lot were three prints of the K.O.N.Y photo signed by Claiborne and the 10th anniversary K.O.N.Y. photograph.

It sold for $594,750, nearly doubling its highest pre-sale estimate, after five bidders competed for more than seven minutes, Sotheby’s said.

Of the fine jewelry lots in the auction, Fab 5 Freddy’s “MTV” gold and diamond ring sold for the most, garnering $35,280.

20200917 MTV ringThis ring, created by Tito the Jeweler for Fred Brathwaite, aka Fab 5 Freddy, when he hosted the TV show “Yo! MTV Raps!” sold for more than $35,000 at auction.

The American visual artist, filmmaker and hip-hop pioneer, real name Fred Brathwaite, had Tito the Jeweler make the piece when he was a host of “Yo! MTV Raps!”

It is set with 20 round diamonds weighing about half a carat each.

A multicolored diamond eye patch owned by British-American rapper and style icon Slick Rick (real name, Richard Walters), meanwhile, sold for $25,200.

Made by Jacob the Jeweler according to a design created by Slick Rick’s wife and manager for his 40th birthday, the eye patch has 20 carats of round near-colorless and colored diamonds in pink, yellow, blue-green and black.

20200917 Eye patchFeaturing more than 20 carats of various colors of diamonds, this eye patch gifted to Slick Rick on his 40th birthday sold for more than $25,000 at auction.

Other notable highlights of the sale include an original, sealed 12-inch Rammellzee vs. K-Rob “Beat Bop” single with original artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1983 that sold for $126,000, smashing its pre-sale estimate high of $3,500, and the “Wall of Boom” art installation, featuring 32 rare vintage boomboxes from the early ‘80s and ‘90s set on a custom-built shelf and wired so they function together.

The Wall of Boom went for $113,400.

There was also an archive of 22 autographed love letters written by a 16-year-old Tupac Shakur to a high school sweetheart who was a fellow student at the Baltimore School of the Arts. They sold for $75,600.

In total, Sotheby’s Hip Hop auction, held live in New York Tuesday night, garnered more than $2 million and was 91 percent sold by lot.

It was organized in collaboration with Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records who helped launch the careers of legends like Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Queen Latifah, De La Soul and Naughty by Nature.

A portion of proceeds from the sale will benefit the Queens Public Library Foundation to support its Hip Hop Programs and Building Beats, a nonprofit community organization that teaches tech, entrepreneurial and leadership skills to underserved youth through deejay and music programs.

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