Worn during Tupac’s final public appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1996, the ring was on offer this week at Sotheby’s from Yaasmyn Fula, the artist’s godmother and lifelong supporter, who was one of Tupac’s most trusted advisors. An inscription ‘Pac & Dada 1996’ is engraved on the band, referencing his engagement to sweetheart Kidada Jones.
The custom ring sold for $1.01 million, tripling its $300,000 high estimate and marking it the most valuable Hip Hop artefact ever sold at auction*, as well as the only Hip Hop artefact to surpass $1 million.
This one-of-a-kind, custom ring was meticulously designed by Tupac and is among the final products of his boundless creative energy–a unique artifact from a period of time that is a testament to his enduring influence on both Hip Hop and global contemporary culture. We’re thrilled that this exceptional piece has entered a new chapter in the hands of another legendary artistCassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s Global Head of Science & Popular Culture
The artist’s custom crown ring is an exceedingly rare piece of Tupac’s signature aesthetic and a slice of Hip Hop history. In December 1995, Fula – at once Tupac’s godmother, advisor, “auntie,” money manager, caretaker, and lifelong supporter – received a call from her beloved godson asking if she was ready to take his career to the next level. Leaving behind a period of incarceration and having signed the now notorious deal with Death Row Records, Tupac spent the first half of 1996 strategizing the expansion of his artistic empire and launching his media group and community organization Euphanasia – headed by Fula – and retooling his image as he transitioned into an executive role in music, strategized screenwriting projects, and rededicated himself to community care through youth outreach programs. To commemorate this momentous arrival into a new stage of life and illustrious career, Tupac got new bling.
Over the course of a few months, Tupac designed the present ring – with Fula liaising between the young superstar and jewellers in New York, communicating Tupac’s specifications and ensuring they were followed to perfection. Reflecting his recent affinity for Niccolo Machiavelli’s political manifesto The Prince (Tupac would start going by “Makaveli” after reading The Prince while incarcerated), Tupac modelled his design after the crowns of the medieval kings of Europe in “an act of self-coronation,” according to Fula, a celebration of survival through a tumultuous year in an oft tumultuous life. A Hip Hop king of his own making, the artist was named after the Peruvian indigenous revolutionary leader Túpac Amaru II. Reflecting on his early childhood, Fula remembers Tupac’s mother Afeni teaching him the following mantra: “You are our black prince. You are my miracle, and you will make black people proud.”
Included on the ring is an inscription atypically engraved on the outer, palm-facing side of the band reading “Pac & Dada 1996,” referencing his recent fairy-tale engagement to sweetheart Kidada Jones. Worn on Tupac’s left-hand ring finger, the present ring was in this position at the rapper’s last public appearance on September 4, 1996, at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Sitting atop a diamond-encrusted gold band is the “crown” itself: a gold circlet studded with the three largest jewels in the entire piece—a central cabochon ruby, flanked by two pavé-cut diamonds. Tupac’s selection of the ruby as the principal stone in his crown is a continuation of this royal narrative, as rubies have long been symbolically tied to the imagery of monarchy and wealth in our cultural imagination.
SOTHEBY’S CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF HIP HOP
To celebrate Hip Hop’s milestone 50-year anniversary, Sotheby’s presented its third dedicated Hip Hop sale, highlighting Hip Hop’s profound impact on art and culture across five decades, from its inception in the South Bronx in 1973 through today.
Featuring original art, historic studio equipment, sneakers and jackets, archival flyers and posters, rare artefacts, and more, the auction spotlights the iconic artists and trailblazers who defined not only the musical genre as we know it but also the global phenomenon of Hip Hop culture spanning art, fashion and much more, including Tupac Shakur, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Fab 5 Freddy, Big Daddy Kane, Futura, Lee Quiñones, UNKLE & Mo’ Wax Founder James Lavelle, among many others. The sale is presented in collaboration with entertainment company Mass Appeal, which throughout the year has curated an array of programming as part of its Hip Hop 50 initiative.
*The Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin reportedly sold for $4M in 2021, marking the second time the unique work of art was sold