Words: Chloe Watts
This week, Sotheby’s announced the first ever dedicated hip-hop auction to be held by an international auction house. With over 120 lots up for auction, including unique artefacts, contemporary art, photography, vintage and modern fashion, the piece leading the collection is the crown worn by rapper Biggie Smalls during his K.O.N.Y portrait session in 1997. At the time, the photoshoot was for an issue of Rap Pages Magazine, but later would end up being his last recorded photoshoot as the superstar was tragically killed three days later in Los Angeles.
The crown, which has remained in the possession of photographer Barron Claiborne for 23 years, includes the inscription “Crown from Biggie KONY Shoot 3.6.97” and is signed by both Smalls and Claiborne. The crown was one of two purchased for the shoot by Claiborne (the other crown being too small) with the intention of photographing the rapper as the King of New York without the over the top imagery that was common for hip-hop in the late 90’s.
Also available at the Sotheby’s auction are over 20 love letters written by Tupac Shakur. Dated between March 1987 and April 1988, the letters follow a relationship between then 16-year-old Shakur and his girlfriend, Kathy Loy while they were both theatre students at Baltimore School for the Arts. Displaying his talent for writing from an early age, the letters take on a poetic writing style and include separate love poems. They also touch on the rappers’ home life and career dreams, confessing his fear of rejection and contemplating quitting rapping.
Hip-hop memorabilia has proven to be a popular collectors category, with an I.D. card belonging to Shakur fetching tens of thousands of dollars at auction in 2019 and a contract containing Small’s rare signature selling for thousands.
The collection can be viewed by appointed in Sotheby’s York Avenue Galleries from September 11 – 15 and also available to the public through an immersive digital gallery experience. The auction will be held on 15 September 2020 with a portion of Sotheby’s proceeds going to the Queens Public Library Foundation to support their Hip-Hop programs.
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