A long way from the shell tops
And the bells that L rocked (rock, rock, rock, rock...)

from Yasiin Bey – Hip Hop Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

Mos remarks on the remarkable fact that, fifteen years after it was an underground street culture just beginning to trace out a profile in the wider world, hip-hop has become the white-hot center of pop music in America, generating billions of dollars worldwide. This is simultaneously a triumph and a tragedy, as blacks have gotten the world to pay attention to their culture and their stories, but at the cost of giving up control of that culture to faceless corporations who care for little besides making profit.

“The bells that L rocked” references LL Cool J’s 1985 hit, here a synechdoche for authentic hip-hop culture.

Shelltops —> shelltoe Adidas sneakers, popularized by Run-DMC

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