Kevin Federline has gotten his share of criticism, but the aspiring rapper takes it all in stride.
"If you want to hate me, cool, hate me," Federline, 28, tells PEOPLE in its new issue. "You know why? Because all it's going to do is help me."
You can say this much for Britney Spears's other half: He is willing to go to the mat to promote – and defend – his debut album, Playing with Fire, due out at the end of the month.
Case in point: On Oct. 16, Federline signed on to be the celebrity punching bag – literally – at the WWE Monday Night RAW, where he talked up his album and, amid boos from the audience, got slammed to the canvas by bruiser John Cena.
But Federline shrugs off the naysayers. "I know who I am," he says. And despite frequent reports of marital discord since he and Spears married in 2004, Federline insists, "Our relationship is strong. ... We are going to last a long time."
Now, however, he's on a campaign to prove he's more than just Britney Spears's husband. While Spears was partying with friends last week in Las Vegas (where she caught a midnight show at Pure Nightclub's Pussycat Dolls Lounge) Federline was hitting the clubs during L.A. fashion week and promoting his music on The Tonight Show.
On the album, he says, the public will see his "edgy side." And he's proud of his acting debut last month, when he played a street tough – a role inspired by him – on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
"I shocked myself," he says. "There were parts that I wish I would have done different, but there are parts that really took me, like, Wow, did I do that? I looked at myself and I was like, It looked good. It looked perfect."
He's not about to let his notoriety go to waste. He was just 18 when he arrived in L.A. and became a dancer "at the bottom of the food chain," he recalls. Now Federline, who often sports his trademark "K-Fed" gold medallion and drives a silver Ferrari, is living the hip-hop dream he has nurtured ever since he was a working-class teenager hanging out at the Rainbow Ballroom dance club in downtown Fresno, Calif.
In addition to his career, family plays a main role in Federline's life. He's is a father of four; he and his ex-girlfriend Shar Jackson have two children, Kori, 4, and Kaleb, 2. His first child with Spears, Sean Preston, is a year old, and on Sept. 12 Spears gave birth to their second son, Jayden James.
With each birth, "it gets less and less stressful," says Federline. Still, it's fatherhood that has made him restless, intent on wrestling with his dreams of stardom.
"It's just time to get my stuff down while they're young," he says, "so I can sit back and watch them grow up."