Tupac Shakur letters and Notorious BIG's crown up for auction at Sotheby's

Auction house’s first hip-hop-themed sale to offer introspective look at rap icons

A series of love letters written by Tupac Shakur and a crown worn by Notorious BIG during a photoshoot a few days before his death are among the items up for auction at Sotheby’s first ever hip-hop-themed sale.

The event, which takes place in New York on 15 September, will celebrate the history and cultural impact of hip-hop, according to the auction house, which says the items offer an introspective look at two of rap’s most well-known figures.

Shakur’s letters include correspondence with Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was a former school friend and girlfriend of the rapper, with the auction house estimating they will fetch $60,000 – $80,000 (£45,000 – £60,000).

The crown worn by Notorious BIG, real name Christopher Wallace, was used in a photoshoot that took place a few days before he was killed in Los Angeles in March 1997. It is made of plastic and would be worthless without its connection to the rapper, with Sotheby’s estimating it will sell for at least $200,000.

Letters written by rapper Tupac Shakur in high school.
Letters written by rapper Tupac Shakur in high school. Photograph: Sotheby’s/Reuters

The portrait – taken by Barron Claiborne – is described as one “the most recognisable images in hip-hop culture” and provides the basis for a famous mural in the rapper’s former borough of Brooklyn in New York.

Cassandra Hatton, the vice president and senior specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department, said: “Since its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s, hip-hop has become a global cultural force, whose massive influence continues to shape all realms of culture: music, fashion, design, art, film, social attitudes, language, and more. This sale is a celebration of the origins and early eras of that influence.”

The rock and pop culture memorabilia market is lucrative. In 2015 the 1962 management contract for the Beatles fetched £365,000 at a London-based Sotheby’s sale, but this is the first time a major auction house has dedicated a sale to hip-hop.

Hatton said the sale offered items that looked beyond the personalities and behind the public personas of the two rappers, who were killed a few months apart after an east-coast west-coast feud escalated.

In 2017, Madonna successfully prevented the auction of Tupac’s letters, which were sent to her when they were a couple. In them, Shakur revealed their eventual split was prompted by racial tensions, writing he felt he would be “letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was” if the relationship continued.

The former Barnsley Chronicle journalist Nina Bhadreshwar recently told Guardian Weekend about her experience as a penpal of Shakur, whom she called a “man of letters”, during his early career when he was in prison in the mid-90s.


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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