Biggie Smalls’ Plastic Crown Sold For $600,000 At Auction
Christopher George Latore Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie Smalls, or Biggie, became one of the most talented rappers ever, despite a tough upbringing, and short life. Raised in the streets without a father figure, he was early on surrounded by drugs and crime and was already selling crack as a teenager after dropping out of high school after 10th grade.
At 17, he was arrested on weapons charges in Brooklyn and sentenced to five years’ probation, at 18, he was arrested for dealing crack cocaine in North Carolina, and spent nine months in jail. But Notorious B.I.G. made it big in the early ‘90s with clever lyrics and an iconic look, an imposing, almost intimidating figure decorated with golden chains. His 1994 debut ‘Ready to Die’ is often cited as one of the most influential releases of its time.
A bejeweled plastic crown he wore at a photoshoot by Barron Claiborne for the cover of Rap Pages turned him into a legend. The idea was to portray him as the King of New York, and the photo is probably the most recognized photographs in hip hop history. I had the chance to see it during the exhibit, ‘Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop’ At Annenberg Space For Photography, last year
Biggie was killed just three days after the photoshoot; he was murdered in a drive-by shooting after leaving a party in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. If his violent death helped turn him into a rap legend, no one has ever been charged with the crime, despite plenty of conspiracy theories and numerous books written about the subject. His mother Voletta Wallace filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in 2002, claiming investigators had covered up information about LAPD involvement in her son’s death, but nobody has never been brought to justice.
If the plastic crown turned Wallace into a powerful symbol, it was still a cheap piece of junk, and the fact that his murder was never solved says a lot about corruption, coverup, and negligence in the police.
Last Tuesday night, during a Sotheby’s auction, the first-ever dedicated to hip-hop, Biggie’s plastic crown he wore for the legendary ‘King of New York’ photoshoot was sold for $600,000. The crown, signed by Biggie and Claiborne, was offered together with the portrait, while other items included 22 love letters Tupac wrote to his high school sweetheart (sold for $75,600), an original Tommy Boy Records neon sign (sold for $13,860) among many other items. ‘Achieving an overall total of $2 million (120 pieces of art and memorabilia were on sale), the auction was a celebration of the history and cultural 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 up to the present,’ wrote Sotheby’s.
When you think about Wallace’s hard life and still unresolved violent death, this $600,000 plastic crown could be the symbol of how we treat artists. Redeemable commodities, and items for sale at Beverly Hills’ auctions, while the artists’ lives are worthless. Wallace’s estimated net worth is now about 8 times bigger than at the time of his death. No surprise there.
View this post on Instagram
All hail the King of New York! Tonight during our inaugural Hip Hop auction, one of the most iconic symbols of Hip Hop’s heyday: the crown 👑 worn and signed by Notorious B.I.G. from @barronclaiborne’s iconic 1997 ‘King of New York’ photoshoot for Rap Pages Magazine sold for $600,000. The photograph is one of the most recognizable images in Hip Hop culture and it has endured as the defining portrait of the artist more than 20 years since it was taken. Achieving an overall total of $2 million, the auction was a celebration of the history and cultural 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 up to the present. A majority of items included in the sale were consigned directly from Hip Hop’s most pivotal and well-known artists and figures, several of who will be sharing their proceeds with a variety of charities. A portion of Sotheby’s own proceeds from the sale will benefit the Hip Hop programs at the @qplnyc, as well as @buildingbeats, a non-profit community organization that teaches tech, entrepreneurial and leadership skills to underserved youth through DJ and music programs. #hiphop #hiphopmusic #notoriousbig #biggiesmalls #barronclaiborne #HipHopxSothebys #QPLHipHop