Just a few days before his very famous wife announced to the world that she was filing for divorce because of “irreconcilable differences,” paparazzi punching bag Kevin Federline sat down and talked to Salon about his fledgling recording career, which officially launched last week with the release “Playing With Fire.” The album — which features the 28-year-old Federline rapping, primarily about his love of weed and his woman — immediately received some of the year’s most scathing reviews; Rolling Stone called it “reprehensible” and “poison.” Federline also had to deal with the cancellation of some concerts, reportedly due to low ticket sales.
But still, Federline seemed relaxed last Friday night, happy to talk about his new musical career and the scorn it’s received. And while we were asked by his publicist not to bring up his better-known half, he brought her up before we he had a chance, speaking openly about why he thought the public didn’t embrace him as Mr. Britney Spears. “They saw this street kid. The world doesn’t want that for Britney Spears. That’s their queen,” he said. “They don’t want some dude that looks like a hoodlum … They want her to be with the all-American boy.”
Federline spoke to Salon while nursing a drink at the nightclub Stereo.
I expected that. That’s what they do. That’s what they’ve been doing to me from the beginning, and eventually my spirit will shine through that. People will see my passion for this. It’s slow and it’s not an easy road, but I don’t like taking the easy road. I’m all about hard work and really proving myself — especially to the hip-hop community.
Probably. I think it definitely could’ve been. If people didn’t know who I was, a couple of the records that I’ve thrown out would’ve probably blown up huge by now. It would’ve just come out of nowhere — people wouldn’t know what to expect.
I think the fact that I got a lot of stuff built up behind me, you know, I gotta kinda battle that. But at the same time I’m really learning that I don’t have to battle that. What I gotta do is get my ass out and go walk around these streets and talk to people because that’s what’s gonna get it done.
Have you had a chance to talk to people yet?
Yeah, man. I been out in New York all over the place, dude. I love it. You can’t keep me off the streets out here, dude! That’s when the old Federline comes back in — the dude from Fresno that people don’t know about. I’ll go walk through every ‘hood out here — I don’t care — and show everybody how real I am. It’s a lot of support. It’s crazy because you see all the stuff in the tabloids and you read about me, but then when I go and get in people’s faces, everybody’s like, “Don’t let them hold you down” and “Don’t let them hate on you.”
I really think this album has the potential of going from the bottom of the barrel first week to selling a million, 2 million. It really does. The industry hasn’t seen that in such a long time. Everybody’s so worried about first week, first week, first week — make it or break it. I’m going to tell you right now, my first week might not be shit, and they might come out and say that my album bombed, but then the second week I’m going to sell more than my first week, and the third week I’m going to sell more than my second week. That’s the climb, and it’s gonna happen. I already see it happening.
Through word of mouth?
Very much so. It’s good. I just went to the radio with [radio DJ] DJ Clue and gave him the record — he hasn’t heard any of the music at all — so I think he’s really gonna be inspired. That’s what it is — I need to get with artists on that level. I need to get with people in the industry and let it be heard, because radio ain’t really trying to play it too much. It’s gonna be about word of mouth, man. It’s gonna be about people picking it up, listening to it, talking about it, going to their friends and telling them, “You know what?” And it’s already happening. Yeah, the critics and whoever — who is a critic? You know what I’m saying? Who deserves to be a critic?
What happened to “Popozao”?
I cut it. I axed that out of there. If you heard the album, then you realize that “Popozao” doesn’t fit in the category of what I was trying to do with this album. Maybe it will on another album or anything, but it’s already out. “Popozao” had its time. It’s on iTunes if people wanna pick that up, go ahead. I’m focused on the new album and what I’m about to do with it. I’m not going to stop promotion, and I’m not gonna stop anything just because people are telling other people or critics are telling people … Give me a star, give me a quarter of a star — shit, fuck that, don’t give me any stars. I don’t care. That’s the motivation I need to keep moving my shit. Move units, dude. Even if I gotta go out and sell ‘em myself.
The Kevin Federline that’s on the album — how close is that to the real Kevin Federline? How much of it is a character you’re creating for the record?
Actually, it’s all Kevin Federline. It’s all my reaction. Everything I’m talking about on there, either I’ve been through it or I’m experiencing it right now. I stay as real as I can. These days that’s pretty upfront and blunt in people’s face. I’m not afraid to tell people what I think. I get a little bit nervous here and there when I’m going into the radio stations with the big dogs and coming out to New York — it’s been a stress on my spirit. It’s been crazy. You get in the radio station and people wanna talk all that gossip shit but at the same time they don’t give a damn where I came from because they don’t really know me. All they know me as is Britney Spears’ husband.
The questions about me and my wife are getting less and less and less and less. To the point where we were on the radio today and Clue was like, “Your buzz is bigger than your wife’s right now. That’s real. They fuckin’ talk about you more than they do about anybody.” So, I’m doing something right. Even if they’re saying it and trying to hate or whatever. Haters motivate.
To a certain extent you invite questions about your family by talking about it so much on the record.
Not really. I spoke on there because it’s been out there so much; because I don’t have a choice. If I had a choice I would keep my family just completely away from everything. But that’s not the way it is. My family is talked about, and my family is judged, and people in my family are judged, and I’m judged. It’s not right, but at the same time it’s fine because it’s the ammunition that I used for this album. This is my foot in the door in telling people that I’m standing up for myself, I’m standing up for my wife, I’m standing up for my kids. Go ahead and keep messing with us, and that’s fine. This is my shot at you. I’m not going to do it too much anymore. The rest of my music is going the universal route. I think that’s where I’m going to win.
Why do you think it is that a lot of people have a negative reaction to you?
I think the media played a big part of that. I think the beginning of my introduction to the world was not the greatest. When people first saw me and first heard about it, and it became global news … within one week almost the whole world knew who I was. Within one week. So, you really have to look at that and take into perspective that the first light that you’re shown is like them judging a book by a cover. That’s all they’ve seen — the cover of the book. They haven’t really thought past that or tried to look past that.
What do you think they saw on the cover?
They saw this dude. They saw this street kid. The world doesn’t want that for Britney Spears. That’s their queen. They don’t want some dude that looks like a hoodlum — baggy pants and wearing his T-shirt all baggy and hat crooked, tilted to the side. They don’t wanna see that shit, and that’s why they hate me. They want her to be with the all-American boy. I think that’s really what it is.
You said it yourself, in the space of one week your life changed. How did that affect you?
At the time it was great, because I didn’t pay attention to it. It helped me out all the way through to where I am right now, because I didn’t pay any attention to it, because I was falling in love with this girl. I didn’t see her as Britney Spears. People look at her and there’s fans and there’s “Oh my god, celebrity” and all that. I was never the guy that was star-struck. I’ve never been that person. I’ve never been the person that was, “Oh let me have your autograph and let me have your picture.” That’s not me. Not since I moved to L.A. eight years ago and started dancing for all these artists. I’ve never been that way. I brought the real dude and she fell in love with that, and I fell in love with her for the country girl that she is. I look past all the other stuff. I don’t care about your money. I don’t care about your fame. I don’t care about any of that,
The watch you’re wearing is worth more money than I’ve made in the last five years.
That’s my baby. Whenever I made some money that’s the first thing I went and bought.
So there are certain aspects of the lifestyle you probably enjoy.
Of course, of course. I have my fetishes like everybody else does. My shoes — my kick game is ridiculous.
How many shoes do you have?
Probably like 80 to 100 pairs. My watch game is ridiculous — just jewelry in general. It’s an investment. I bought this [points to his watch], and it’s already gone up in value. All the jewelry I’m wearing has already gone up in value.
You’re not planning on selling it anytime soon are you?
Hell no. I ain’t getting rid of it. I’m going to go out and get some more. It’s great to be able to go and do that stuff, but you really sit back and think about it … You could have all the money in the world and within two months of having that … Say you hit the lotto, right? Two months of having that money, you go and buy a mansion, you buy a big-ass boat, you travel all around the world, you do everything in two months. That’s not gonna buy you happiness. That’s not gonna define who I am. It only goes so far. There’s something way beyond that that’s deep that I have with my wife that nobody will ever understand.
So let’s say somebody says you release this rap album, but you’re on the level of [underground rapper] Hi-Tek or somebody like that who’s not actually selling a lot of albums or living the life you’re living.
That doesn’t matter. If somebody compared me to somebody like that — I look up to people like that. Backpackers, underground music is great. I’m not doing this for the money. I already have money. If people think I’m doing this for the money, they got to sit back and look at, like … what the fuck do I care about money right now? I’m doing it because this is what I love to do. This is a piece of my heart right here. I’m trying to share that with the world. I don’t think they’re accepting to it too much because they take it as bragging and shit talking and just a cocky arrogance. It’s not that at all.
What’s the last book you read?
Last book I read was either — man, somebody just asked me this shit today — it was either Russell Simmons’ or Puffy’s book. I’m really studying people who have been in this business and people who have really made themselves into a business from nothing because basically that’s … you see the watch and you see the jewelry and even though, yeah, I do have money, in a sense, I act like I really don’t. Right now the way I look at it is that I’m broke and I’m struggling to get this shit off.