On the eve of his album launch, Kevin Federline would like you to know that he's more than a baby-daddying, Venti-buying, Britney Spears-mooching goofball.
It's 7:30 A.M. on a Friday in late April, and Kevin Federline sits in the Burbank studio of Power 106 - "Where Hip-Hop Lives." He's a guest on Big Boy's Neighborhood, the drive-time morning show hosted by Big Boy and his sidekicks, Tattoo (who has ink across his forehead announcing I SLEPT WITH SHAQ) and Luscious Liz. Big Boy sits in front of a large touch-screen monitor that he uses to call up his playlist, and at a table opposite him, Federline, wearing his white-on-white Nike Air Force 1's and a T-shirt that reads HOLLA @ YO DAMN SELF, samples liberally from a tub of red rope licorice.
Federline's manager, Dan Dymtrow, whom Federline affectionately refers to as Dumb Dan and "that little leprechaun," crouches in the background alongside Federline's childhood buddy Jimmy, who is videotaping the proceedings. Jimmy's been recording for months, in the studio and on trips to Vegas (when Federline made a promotional appearance at the Vegas nightclub Pure, Jimmy tells me, "there was a line of bitches two football fields long"), and Federline's planning to use the footage in a making-of DVD that will be packaged with his debut rap album, Playing With Fire. Another friend, Eddie, sits in the hallway with Federline's bodyguard, Big Mike. When I ask if his friends call him K-Fed, Federline says, "Hell no. They know I'd slap the shit out of them if they ever called me that." Still, "that's how society relates to me," he concedes, and he seems to have worked out his own logic regarding the powers of branding. "It's not like I'm gonna sit there and tell everybody, "Don't call me K-Fed' - then everybody's gonna want to call me K-Fed. Run with what they know."
Federline had been invited to Power 106 months ago, when his first single, "PopoZao," a very misguided big of Brazilian funk, was released on the Internet. He wisely declined. "They had an agenda to bash me on the air," he says, whereas today "we're only talking about the music."
This morning is the world premiere of Federline's single "America's Most Hated." He posted the song on his MySpace page a week ago, and it has been downloaded a million times, but Federline sees this morning's visit as its legit debut. "I came across your MySpace page last night," Luscious Liz says on-air. "The music was actually pretty good." It's not exactly a compliment, but Federline smiles proudly. During a commercial break, Tat asks Federline about his shoes. The most he has ever spent on a pair of sneakers, Federline says, is $1,500, though he's never worn them - they hang on the wall in his closet "like a piece of art."
After twenty more minutes of not talking about music, it appears that Big Boy is finally ready to play "America's Most Hated." The song comes on and Federline begins to smile, but then Big Boy turns it off after a few seconds. Federline sits up in his chair and looks worriedly at his manager. "Do you know what the Hat of Forbidden Questions is?" Big Boy asks, pulling a green felt hat from beneath his desk. "If you do fifteen questions, we'll go ahead and play the song in its entirety." Federline smirks and leans way back in his chair again. Question number one: "If Britney Spears gave you a pass for a threesome, who would you bring into the bedroom?" Federline hesitates before blurting out, "Old girl in Sin City." (Jessica Alba.) The next two questions require less thought.
"If you and Justin Timberlake were in a fight, who would win?" "I would." "When you smoke, do you use a pipe or papers?" "Both."
Now Big Boy takes a deep breath and slides his chair in toward the soundboard. "Kevin Federline," he says, "if I was to make a business card for you right now, what should I put as your job title?"
Federline puts down the licorice he's been gnawing on, and his smile - suspended there between his two diamond earrings - goes serious. "I'm an artist," he says.