August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

At last, a reality talent competition show where the contestants can swear without being bleeped, and where no one will be embarrassed if their criminal records show up on The Smoking Gun. It’s ”Interscope Presents ‘The Next,”’ a Showtime series debuting in October that will feature ”8 Mile”-style rap face-offs between aspiring MCs in five different cities.

Each of the first five episodes of the six-part series will feature competitions among local hip-hoppers in a particular city — Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. Winners will be decided by audience acclaim; there’s no phone voting (the episodes are already being taped) or panel of celebrity judges. (Also, no fancy stage decorated with product placements; the Detroit episode was shot in a junkyard, USA Today reports.) The final episode will pit the five local winners against each other in a Los Angeles showdown. So far, the only prizes are bragging rights and national exposure, though there may be a cash prize, merchandise, or a recording contract, say the producers, who include Interscope Geffen A&M Records chief Jimmy Iovine, Jillian Fleer of 4Battle Enterprises, and Eminem manager Paul Rosenberg.

Adding to the show’s street credibility may be its decision not to do criminal background checks on the contestants. ”We did avoid anyone under incarceration,” Fleer told USA Today. For a rapper, a rap sheet ”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 camerapeople have been told not to hold back.”

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