The original contact sheet cutout of an iconic Notorious B.I.G. portrait is going up for auction to commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
The photo of the late rapper, taken by Barron Claiborne in 1997, has been replicated time and time again. It features Biggie looking straight into the camera with a crown tilted on his head, symbolizing his status as The King of New York. The photograph was taken just three days before his death.
The auction opens Wednesday, July 12, with the opening bid at 50 Ethereum, which is about $94,673 at the time of publication. For that, the winner of the auction will receive the six by seven centimeter contact sheet cutout, which has been archived for 26 years according to the auction page, labeled and signed. The auction also includes the NFT counterpart and a one-on-one call with Claiborne where they can talk about the photo and its history, in person in New York City or over a video call.
GM 👑 count down to Auction for ‘There Can Only Be One’ starting at 2pm est today.
Before digital you had to wait 24 hrs to see the results. This was the first frame I saw and I knew this was the money shot! I have kept this cut out from the contact sheet for 26 years!… pic.twitter.com/2UDcloL9gf
— Barron Claiborne (@TheKONYNFT) July 12, 2023
“I have a really special relationship with Biggie. Even though he hasn’t been here for a very long time, he’s affected my life in so many different ways that I would have never thought of, and we’re kind of tied together in a way, at least photographically,” Claiborne says in a video on the auction page.
“You know, I have a lot of respect for him, and I’m very actually happen and proud that I actually took this photo. And I’m actually proud that he’s remembered this way, with nobility, dignity, like he should be.”
If you visit the Clinton Hill neighborhood where B.I.G. grew up, you’ll see iterations of this image countless times. There are murals that use this portrait as an example, as well as window art and posters visible from storefronts along the streets.
“I jokingly call that photo the Mona Lisa of hip-hop,” Vikki Tobak, author of photography book Contact High: A Visual History Of Hip-Hop, told uDiscoverMusic in 2019. “It is a defining photo when you think of Biggie. To see that there’s that goofy, laughing guy on the contact sheet, it was so cool to see that. People have a surprised reaction when they see it, but also those who knew him were like, ‘Oh, that’s the Biggie that I know.’”
The crown from the photoshoot session was auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2020 and sold for $594,750. Claiborne had held on to it over the years up to that point.
Claiborne further revealed interesting details about the photograph, noting that it was actually the very first frame he saw when the photos were developed. And the label that says 1995? It’s a mistake made by the company Corbis, which Claiborne says was thinking of the first time he shot Biggie. That photoshoot created another famous image of the rapper, Universal Biggie, of him donning a white suit and a cane amid a black backdrop and stars.
The auction will run for 30 days, though 15 minutes will be adding if a bid is placed in the last 15 minutes of the auction to avoid sniping, as the auction page notes. And as Claiborne points out of the contact sheet cutout, there is, like Biggie himself, only one.