It's '8 Mile' meets 'American Idol' on rap reality show
Fri Aug 8, 6:53 AM ET
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
The battle is on to separate two-bit rappers from the next 50 Cent.
Showtime and Interscope Records have teamed to produce a six-part series designed to discover the hottest new prospect in hip-hop. Interscope Presents The Next
, which is expected to begin airing in October, is part talent contest and part documentary, with each episode culminating in one-on-one rap battles. Though clearly part of the reality-show stampede, The Next is less inspired by American Idol than by 8 Mile, the Eminem movie that unveiled Detroit's scrappy rap underground.
The show starts with 10 semifinalists, two each from New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit. They were selected by a screening committee of hip-hop experts from a pool of hundreds recommended by local labels, DJs and producers. In each of the first five one-hour episodes, competitors wrestle for the city crown and a shot at the finale in Los Angeles.
Unlike Idol, the rap race boasts no celebrity judges, phone-in votes or glitzy stages (Detroit's showdown was staged in a junkyard). Winners will be determined by audience hysteria. And, in an effort to keep the reality real, rappers are granted full poetic license in Showtime's bleep-free climate.
"This can be more of an R-rated show," says executive producer Paul Rosenberg, Eminem's manager and vice president of Shady Records. "On a PG-style show, these guys would be disqualified for cussing. A new artist isn't used to censoring himself. When you're thinking off the top of your head, some naughty words might slip out."
In another bid for street credibility, producers did not conduct criminal-background checks, "but we did avoid anyone under incarceration," says Jillian Fleer of 4Battle Enterprises. A troubled past "is sometimes part of the journey. People get caught up in the sour language and negative messages, but we're tapping into all sides of this genre. By the time you get to the rap battle, you understand the words and see how they're tied into real lives. We're not bending the stories. The camera people have been told not to hold back."
Each episode delves into the lifestyles and neighborhoods of the hip-hop hopefuls. Guest rappers will referee as contestants face off in spontaneous rap duels.
"To show a full range of skill sets, they'll perform a cappella, over a human beat box and over a live drummer," Rosenberg says.
No prizes have been confirmed yet, but cash, merchandise or a record contract are under consideration. The spotlight may be reward enough.
"Some of these undiscovered MCs have been in rap battles since they were 5 years old," Fleer says. "Some of them were influenced by Dr. Seuss."