The “King of New York” crown that the Notorious B.I.G. wore during his last recorded photoshoot is going up for sale. Sotheby’s is auctioning the iconic headpiece as part of the first-ever dedicated hip hop auction at a major international auction house.
The auction features 120 lots with artefacts, contemporary art, and photography that reflect the impact hip hop has had on art and culture from the late 1970s through the “Golden Age” of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. And few objects hold as much meaning and interest as the late rapper’s crown.
The assassination of Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie/Biggie Smalls and Notorious B.I.G.) remains one of the most significant events in the history of hip hop, and his ‘K.O.N.Y. (King of New York)’ portrait session, just three days earlier provided one of the most famous images of the late rapper. One that would immortalize him as the “King of New York.”
Below, we’ve looked at the story behind the coveted auction item.
What’s the story behind the crown?
On March 6, 1997, Notorious B.I.G. arrived at photographer Barron Claiborne’s studio at 100 Greenwich street near Wall Street. According to Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Biggie was ‘open to whatever’ Claiborne had in mind for the photoshoot that day. Claiborne, working on a commission for the cover of Rap Pages magazine wanted to portray Biggie as a king. “Claiborne decided to immortalize him with a tilted crown nonchalantly placed on his head.”
Big is believed to have gone straight from the shoot to the airport for Los Angeles. Three days later, he was killed in a drive-by shooting outside of a Vibe mag party at Peterson Automotive Museum in LA.
Why is it so significant?
In an interview with Claiborne, writer Vikki Tobak explains that the “King of New York” photo has become one the most recognized images in hip hop history because it serves “as a symbol of greatness and remains one of the most iconic representations of the genre’s proliferation into America’s visual culture.” She suggests that “the photo is about legend. It’s about being the best. And it’s about the mythology created around our greatest heroes when they die young.”
Although, not everyone was as impressed by the crown imagery. According to Robb Report, Bad Boy Records owner Sean “Diddy” Combs didn’t like the photo spread. He reportedly thought it made the emcee look like “The Burger King.”
Where has it been since 1997?
The crown has remained in the possession of Barron Claiborne since the legendary 1997 photoshoot. The interior of the crown bears the inscription “Crown from Biggie KONY Shot NYC 3-6-97” and is signed by both Biggie and Claiborne.
When does it go to auction?
The live auction will take place at 6PM EST on September 15 at Sotheby’s New York. Included in the lot are three specially sized (36 x 40″) prints – all 1/1 printed and signed by Claiborne – of the ‘K.O.N.Y’ photograph, the 10th-anniversary K.O.N.Y. photograph, and the contact sheet. The auction house expects it to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000. You can register to bid, here.
A portion of the buyer premium will go to will benefit Building Beats, a non-profit focused on DJ and music programs.