LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Federline is pretty much a walking punch line. But when you meet him in person, surprise: He's soft-spoken, he looks you in the eye and he seems grounded, if a little out of touch.
Federline -- a k a K-Fed and Mr. Britney Spears -- wants to be taken seriously as a rapper. The 28-year-old, who's scheduled to perform Wednesday at the House of Blues, says he's more than just a tabloid target: He's a working father of fourdedicated to developing himself as an artist.
''That's like the big transition, how I can get people to relate to that,'' Federline says thoughtfully while dragging on a Marlboro Light. ''They're thinking about the family life and K-Fed and all this stuff, he's living off her and blah, blah, blah. They don't know that I paid for my own album and I paid my way. I paid my dues to be able to do this.''
Federline took a dance-strewn route to his rap dreams, working as a backup dancer for artists including Pink, Destiny's Child, 'N Sync and Michael Jackson.
But the Fresno, Calif., native says music ''was always in the back of my mind since I was young.'' It's just that break-dancing was big when he was a boy, he explains, so he learned the moves. Then he heard he could make money doing it. The middle child in a family of six, Federline moved to Los Angeles nine years ago to work as a dancer and found success almost immediately.
He was still dancing -- and dating former girlfriend Shar Jackson -- when he and Spears fell in love in 2004.
The two first met when Federline was 20 and Spears was 16, he says. When they reconnected a few years later, ''it was one of those love-at-first-sight type deals,'' he says.
Jackson gave birth to Federline's son Kaleb in July 2004. Spears and Federline wed two months later. (He and Jackson also have a daughter, Kori, 4.)
Their romance seemed to both horrify and amuse the nation. The idea that America's favorite pop princess would take up with a chain-smoking background dancer who was already in a relationship was grist for plenty of gossip columns; the couple's wild exploits just made their relationship more of a target.
When his wife got pregnant, Federline began building a recording studio in their Malibu mansion. He started working on his album after their son Sean Preston was born.
He brought in writer-producers such as Kanye West collaborator Bosko and Jonathan ''J.R.'' Rotem. The result? "Playing With Fire," 13 thumping tracks of K-Fed on K-Fed. He brags about his wealth (''One earring costs more than your budget''), postures about his rhyming skills (''When this emcee cocks the hammer you can't touch me'') and takes swipes at the media. Spears joins in for one track.
Federline insists that the tabloids' take on him as a party-loving bad boy is all wrong. He sees himself as a family man. And when it comes to his two sons with Spears, he changes diapers and doles out the discipline.
Promoting the album means spending a lot of time away from home, away from his wife and children. But Federline says it's worth it.
''It's a sacrifice that you have to make. I want my children to look up to me. I don't want them to be like, 'Oh, Daddy's around all the time, you know, he's not doing nothing ever.' I want them to know what it's like to have to work hard and get the big payoff at the end.''