King of the Chaff

Keven Federline makes a case for the American Chav

What is Kevin Federline? As of late 2006, a solid consensus seems to hold that he is not a rapper. The former pizza delivery boy and soon-to-be-former-husband of Britney Spears has arrived with such a noisy barrage of advance publicity that it would be hard for any artist to sustain momentum, let alone one currently polling alongside Vanilla Ice, Rappin' Rodney and the Chicago Bears in rhyming skills. Last March's unintentional video for "PopoZão"—in which K-Fed, as he is now known, appears to suffer some sort of neurological event at the mixing board—went a long way toward aborting Federline's credibility in its early third trimester. Reportedly, his own Federation Records enacted a reverse Snakes on a Plane-style marketing maneuver, yanking the track from his new album as a response to overwhelming mass raspberries.

K-Fed shares the chiseled good looks of English soccer star David Beckham, but it is another Brit who seems to provide his comic material: UK lottery winner Michael Carroll. Since coming into $18 million four years ago, Carroll, a former garbage man, has indulged his sweet tooth for rings, cocaine, German cars and houses with back yards large enough to stage private demolition derbies. For his petty assaults and drive-by BB rampages he has been rewarded with months in prison, unending community service, and an ankle bracelet. For general poor attitude, behavior, grammar, and posture, the British media have dubbed him the "Lotto Lout." For himself, Carroll has chosen a loftier moniker: King of the Chavs.

"Chav" has no direct translation in American English. "White trash" and the unfortunate "wigger" are imprecise matches. Yes, Chavs are loud, vulgar and largely white, and they do fancy a spot of rap music. Yes, Chavs are devoted aficionados of bling, booze, drugs, teen pregnancy, counterfeit athletic wear, and the smashing and puking upon of private property. But Chavs are also a byproduct of The Dole, of a welfare state that never existed in America. Where our main fault line runs through race, Britain's runs through class. Chavs flummox England not because they are white people acting black, but because they are lower class people acting uppity. Their resemblance to American scum is only as close as the similarities between the droogs of A Clockwork Orange and the Crips.

At first glance, Federline's rise seems entirely homegrown, the American Dream of all young men who aspire to marry a nubile blonde with $100 million in the bank. And yet there are trace elements of the Chav in all his works. Having rocked the cornrows and the wedding night tracksuit and the four kids by 28, K-Fed now turns full-time to Thug Life Lite. Throw in the ditching of a pregnant girlfriend, and you've got a Lotto Lout. Except that the lottery won by Federline is much larger than that won by the King of the Chavs. K-Fed's winnings came from the dole of a rich wife, and can only dry up through extensive litigation—pending specifics of the divorce settlement. Federline boasts, in the ghost-written rhymes of "Lose Control," of being "in a whole 'nother [sic] tax bracket." All he needs is the electronic ankle bracelet.

Federline's defense lies back in the American Dream portion of his ascent. It's a sweet loophole. We average Americans are a psychotically optimistic bunch, finding underdogs where other cultures see underclass. Some underdogs can even be rich bumpkins. You don't have to admit it to anyone else, or even yourself, but part of you wants K-Fed to turn the House of Blues stage into the last 15 minutes of 8 Mile, to prove that he can disarm his enemies through sheer verbal mastery, to move an audience to tears, to one day exit the world and not be remembered as the Tom Arnold of Britney Spears. He has coined his rapping style as Straight 2008. You have no way of knowing that it is not.

KEVIN FEDERLINE AT HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-BLUE; WWW.HOB.COM. NOV. 20, 7 P.M. $23-$25. ALL AGES.

 
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