On March 6, 1997, photographer Barron Claiborne welcomed Christopher Wallace—also known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls—to his New York studio. Together, the pair unknowingly made history. Claiborne took a series of portraits of Biggie wearing a plastic crown and posing as the “King of New York.” “I used to think he looked like a big king,” says Claiborne. That’s all there was behind the now-ubiquitous image.
If others had had their way, however, the photos would have never been taken: The rapper Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, who accompanied Biggie to the photo shoot, advised his friend that the crown made him look like “the Burger King.” Claiborne’s vision prevailed, of course, and the photos became iconic upon running in Rap Pages magazine. That’s in part because they were also the final portraits ever taken of Biggie, who was shot and killed just three days after the photos were