Biggie Smalls’ Crown Fetches $594,750 In $2 Million Hip Hop Auction

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If you have any hip hop memorabilia stashed inside your house now might be a good time to find it as there is a high-end collector’s market for items from this music and arts cultural movement.  

Sotheby’s New York Hip Hop sale Tuesday achieved $2 million, surpassing its high estimate, with 91% of the 120 lots sold. The auction house also says that more than 10 new artist auction records were achieved, with many of these artists appearing at auction for the first time.

Interest was strong in the sale with more than 400 registered bidders, more than 25% of whom were new to Sotheby’s, from 19 countries around the world, which combined an online and live auction components. Sotheby’s says this interest illustrates “the widespread global reach of Hip Hop as a one of the world’s most impactful and beloved cultural movements.” Hip Hop began in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York, and by the 1990s spread to international prominence. 

Fab 5 Freddy gold and diamond 'MTV' ring that sold for $35,280
Fab 5 Freddy gold and diamond ‘MTV’ ring that sold for $35,280 SOTHEBY’S

The top lot in the sale was Biggie Smalls’ (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie) worn and signed crown used for the 1997 “K.O.N.Y.” photo shoot that fetched $594,750, nearly double its $300,000 high estimate. Five bidders competed for more than seven minutes for the lot. The crown is made of plastic with plastic beads imitating colored gems but its symbolism is significant. It was the rapper’s last recorded photo shoot before he was killed in Los Angeles three days later.

Another standout lot was a Rammellzee vs. K-Rob “Beat Bop” sealed 12-inch single featuring original artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1983. Considered a “holy grail” Hip Hop record, the vinyl achieved $126,000, more than 50 times its high estimate of $3,500. In addition to creating the graffiti-influenced cover and label artwork, Basquiat also produced, directed and independently issued the vinyl in a run of only 500 copies on his own Tartown Inc. label. The vinyl was consigned by Profile Records Co-Founder Cory Robbins, who will be donating 100% of the sale proceeds to the Archive of Contemporary Music. The sale also marks the LP as the most expensive vinyl Hip Hop record sold at auction.

DJ Ross One “The Wall of Boom″ installation of 32 vintage boomboxes. It sold for $113,400
DJ Ross One “The Wall of Boom” installation of 32 vintage boomboxes. It sold for $113,400 SOTHEBY’S

Another highlight was “The Wall of Boom” by DJ Ross One, sold for $113,400, besting its $100,000 high estimate. The art installation features 32 rare and vintage boomboxes from the early 1980s through the early 1990s displayed on a custom-built shelf and wired together to function as a singular sound system.

Among the bejeweled items that stood out was a Fab 5 Freddy’s legendary gold and diamond “MTV” ring, 1988, paved with 20 round diamonds. Best-known as the host of the show, “Yo! MTV Raps!” he worked with Tito the Jeweler, aka “Manny,” believed to be the first Hip Hop jeweler, to create this piece. The auction house says it is “one of the most famous and unique pieces of Hip Hop Jewelry.” It sold for $35,280, beating its $30,000 high estimate.

Slick Rick's multicolored diamond eye patch that $25,200
Slick Rick’s multicolored diamond eye patch that sold for $25,200 SOTHEBY’S

This was followed by Slick Rick’s multicolored diamond eye patch by Jacob the Jeweler, which fetched $25,200, matching its high estimate. The patch is paved with pink, yellow, blue-green and black diamonds and is based on the custom design of Slick Rick’s wife and manager, Mandy, who gave it to him as a gift for his 40th birthday.

Most of the items in the sale were from the 1970s to the 1990s, however there were a few pieces that were made specifically for this sale. This included two handbags by Judith Leiber Couture that depict late 20th century iconic symbols of popular culture. The first is the “Don’t Call Me I’ll Call You” brick phone of the 1990s. The brass handbag with silver toned metal hardware is covered by more than 9,000 hand-set crystals with a silver metallic leather lined interior. It sold for $8,190, within estimates.

Judith Leiber Couture ″Disco Boombox″ handbag that sold for $7,560
Judith Leiber Couture “Disco Boombox” handbag that sold for $7,560 SOTHEBY’S

The second item is the “Disco Boombox.” The brass handbag with silver toned metal hardware is covered by more than 10,000 hand-set crystals with a silver metallic leather lined interior. The 3-D knobs and speakers are hand polished and plated silver. It sold for $7,560, within estimates.

One item that didn’t sell was a “Ladies First” four-finger 14k yellow gold ring with the faces of Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lady of Rage, and Roxanne Shante, in a Mount Rushmore type depiction. The Hip Hop-inspired jewel was created by New York-bases jewelry designer, Johnny Nelson. It’s dated 2020 and signed “JN” on one side and “Sotheby’s” on the other. Its estimate was $22,000 – $24,000.

Johnny Nelson, Ladies First Mount Rushmore Reimagined ring that failed to sell
Johnny Nelson, Ladies First Mount Rushmore Reimagined ring that failed to sell SOTHEBY’S

Other items of note in the sale included a complete run of The Source magazine; Salt-N-Pepa’s famous “Push It” jackets; an archive of love letters written by teenage Tupac Shakur’s; a pair of custom Air Force 1 by Ms. Opal Lee, Niko Brim, and Sierato in honor of Juneteenth Holiday Campaign; Dr. Dre’s shiny World Class Wreckin’ Cru “Wrapped in Romance” suit; and a cover study for De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising album.

An undisclosed portion of Sotheby’s proceeds will benefit the Queens Public Library Foundation, to support their Hip Hop Programs, coordinated by “Uncle” Ralph McDaniels, as well as Building Beats, a non-profit community organization that teaches tech, entrepreneurial and leadership skills to underserved youth through DJ and music programs.

The auction was organized in collaboration with Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records (1981-1998) who helped launch the careers of legends that include Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and Naughty by Nature.

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