Skip to main content

Story: Hip hop

Māori and Pacific Island artists have led the way in developing a local hip hop culture – and Aotearoa New Zealand’s hip hop music and dance holds its own on the world stage.

Story by April K. Henderson
Main image: Breakdancing in the street, 1980s

Story Summary

All images & media in this story


Hip hop culture includes these art forms: DJing, MCing (including rapping), graffiti art and b-boying or b-girling (also known as breaking or breakdancing). It began in the United States in the 1970s, and developed in Aotearoa New Zealand from the 1980s.

Dance: breaking, popping and locking

The first of the hip hop arts to become popular in Aotearoa was dance. In the early to mid-1980s aspects of breakdancing, popping and locking were widely practised, especially among young Māori and Pacific people.

The first flush of enthusiasm died down, but hip hop dance re-emerged after the mid-1990s. New Zealand became home to accomplished breakers and poppers as well as internationally competitive crews performing more choreographed styles of hip hop dance.

Graffiti art

Hip hop graffiti focuses strongly on letters, using highly stylised and embellished fonts. Aotearoa graffiti artists were first inspired by the US graffiti art documentary Style wars, shown in 1983. Over time they incorporated many local design elements.

Hip hop music

In the 1980s the cost of equipment and imported records posed barriers to DJs, but nightclubs allowed a growing number to hone and display their skills, and regular hip hop radio programmes grew the community.

Hip hop music production in Aotearoa began in the late 1980s, increased throughout the 1990s, and proliferated with access to home recording equipment in the 2000s. As overseas, New Zealand hip hop music covers a wide range of themes, from strident social commentary to lyrical self-aggrandisement to celebrations of community.

Hip hop summits

National hip hop ‘summits’ were organised from 1998, fostering collaboration and a sense of community, as well as re-emphasising the interconnectedness of the different hip hop art forms.

How to cite this page:

April K. Henderson, 'Hip hop', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 March 2018)

Story by April K. Henderson, published 22 Oct 2014