King of New York Photographer – ‘No one else has ever worn the crown’

by Valerie De La Rosa

Brooklyn, New York – The crown worn and signed by Notorious B.I.G. from the iconic 1997 ‘King of New York’ portrait session will be up for auction at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.

Frank 151’s Alex Corporan and Valerie De La Rosa caught up with famed photographer and cinematographer, Barron Claiborne, to tell us where this infamous crown has been since that photoshoot, why he’s letting go of it now and the iconography of the crown’s legacy. The interview is part of the Frank Conversations series.

“A lot of people didn’t realize I had it. They assumed I threw it in the garbage or whatever. Nobody really thought of the crown itself from the photo that much. It [has] become an artifact because of the image. Biggie gave it meaning,” Claiborne explained.

Claiborne bought the shiny, gold, plastic novelty crown specifically for this photo session with Notorious B.I.G. for $6.00. This was his second time photographing the rapper and his idea for the crown was symbolic because Biggie looked like a “big, noble king,” Claiborne explained. The session took place at Claiborne’s studio in New York and lasted about an hour. Biggie signed the crown before he left.

The 24-year-old rapper was shot and killed in Los Angeles three days later.

Claiborne was on-location in Paris when Biggie died. Upon returning to the city, Claiborne rushed to visit Corporan at Supreme (then on Lafayette) with an 8 x 10” of the K.O.N.Y. print in-hand to show Corporan, then holding court behind the Supreme counter. It was an episode from artist Konstance Patton’’s podcast, F*CKING REJECTS, that unlocked the memory.

Corporan recalls seeing the photo for the first time. “I remember being so psyched. And I’m like Barron, that’s great. When you looked at the photo it was just so beautiful.“

Claiborne played coy on his feelings to give up the crown, “I’ll get over it.”

Patton said people were trying to buy the crown for years and that, “It was not an easy decision” to put it up for auction. Claiborne agreed, “Oh yeah not at all.”

Sotheby’s is holding the first Hip Hop Auction ever to be held by a major international auction house this evening at 6:00PM EDT with over 120 lots of iconic memorabilia reflecting on the impact of Hip Hop from the 1970s through the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, and up to the present.

The literal crown jewel of the auction, the King of New York (K.O.N.Y.) Crown is one of 120 lots and the K.O.N.Y. Crown lot offered includes more than the crown. The winning bidder will, in addition to the original signed and dated K.O.N.Y. Crown, also receive a 36 x 40 in chromogenic print of the K.O.N.Y. shots contact sheet and a 36 x 40 in chromogenic print of Notorious B.I.G. as the (K.O.N.Y) – as in the iconic hip hop portrait photographed by Barron Claiborne – and it’s number one of an edition of one (signed verso).

“I’m glad that he’s remembered with that photo. That makes me happy. I think he would like the photo too,” Claiborne concluded.

A portion of Sotheby’s proceeds to benefit the Queens Public Library Hip Hop Programs and Building Beats, a non-profit community organization focused on DJ & music programs.

For the full Frank Conversations interview with photographer and cinematographer Barron Claiborne, artist Konstance Patton, and Frank151’s Alex Corporan & Valerie De La Rosa, see the full video below.


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