Think Out Loud

Warm Springs tribal member wins coveted arts fellowship

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
Feb. 5, 2024 7:11 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Feb. 7

Since 2015, Warm Springs tribal member Scott Kalama has been performing hip hop music under the name "Blue Flamez." In January 2024, he was awarded a Fields Artist Fellowship from Oregon Humanities and Oregon Community Foundation, which comes with $150,000 given over two years.

Since 2015, Warm Springs tribal member Scott Kalama has been performing hip hop music under the name "Blue Flamez." In January 2024, he was awarded a Fields Artist Fellowship from Oregon Humanities and Oregon Community Foundation, which comes with $150,000 given over two years.

Courtesy Jamila Clarke


Scott Kalama is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. He works as a certified prevention specialist at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation to mentor youth and raise awareness about the risks associated with drug and alcohol use. Growing up on the reservation, his older brother handed down CDs and mixtapes of Tupac and other hip hop artists which sparked Kalama’s own musical calling and journey.

Performing under the name “Blue Flamez,” he raps about life on the reservation, celebrates pride in being Native American and the teachings he learned from tribal elders, while acknowledging how violence and substance use have scarred his family and community. Last month, Kalama was awarded $150,000 for winning a 2024-2026 Fields Artist Fellowship from Oregon Humanities and Oregon Community Foundation. He joins us in the studio for a performance and to share how he plans to use this fellowship to reach a wider audience.

The following transcription was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Scott Kalama is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. In his day job he is a certified prevention specialist on the reservation. He mentors youth to raise awareness about the risks of drugs and alcohol. He has another life as well, he is a hip hop musician who performs under the name “Blue Flamez.” He raps about Native pride, reservation life, political issues, and the toll that violence and substance use have taken on his community and his own family. Last month, Kalama was awarded $150,000 as part of a two year Fields Artist Fellowship from Oregon Humanities and Oregon Community Foundation. He joins me now. Welcome and congratulations.

Scott Kalama: Thank you for having me, Dave.

Miller: I was hoping we could start right in with a performance. Can we hear “To The Sky”?

Kalama: Yeah, let’s do it.

[Kalama raps “To The Sky”]

Miller: Where did that song come from?

Kalama: That song actually came from the NoDAPL movement. They’re in Standing Rock. There was a lot of protests going on locally. I attended the Tesoro Oil Terminal Savages protest here in Vancouver, Washington. That was to stop the train development from contaminating the water. I went to that one, and I went to the No Nestle in The Dallas, Oregon. And after that, I went to NoDAPL in Standing Rock. And all of them that had in common was the destruction of the environment, and how the powers that be didn’t care and pushed the agenda forward. They ignored the scientists, they ignored the kids, they ignored the teachers, and they ignored people like me. And so I end up creating the song, “To The Sky.”

Miller: Did you perform when you were at those protests?

Kalama: When I first went to the protest, I saw a band playing at the rally, and I thought “maybe I can do this.” So that’s what inspired me. I ended up going to NoDAPL, to Standing Rock, and I performed “To The Sky” for the people there. And it was pretty awesome. They had a local radio station there that aired it on the airwaves. And all the people there had their hands to the sky, and they’re feeling the vibe. And I’m happy I was there.

Miller: Let’s go back. Do you remember the first time you heard hip hop?

Kalama: Yeah, man. The first time I heard hip hop, I was a little kid. Shout out to my older brother, RIP Gib Kalama Jr. He gave me a tape of Ice-T, “Colors,” and it just changed my life. It was funny to me because I didn’t realize there was any other musical genre because that’s all I listened to.

Miller: When you say it changed your life, what was it about hearing Ice-T, and then other hip hop after that, that changed your life?

Kalama: The stories that they’re telling that made me relate to them, made me realize that I wasn’t the only one that was struggling. I wasn’t the only one that was looking around and questioning “what am I doing here?” And those stories spoke to me in a way where I thought, “this guy is cool, I can learn something from him.” It was funny “Getting It,” Too Short, that’s the one I like the most, because he talks about getting it. It inspired me as a little kid. He has a line on there “get a degree and get an education.” And I was like “woah.” And “you can go on a vacation.” And it just spoke to me in a way. I thought maybe one day I can get an education and I can go on vacation as well.

Miller: Were you a west coast rap kid, if you had to decide?

Kalama: Yeah, I got caught up in all that west coast/east coast drama.

Miller: When did you say “I think that I can do this?” A lot of people are fans. But you decided you wanted to actually make your own music, make your own rhymes.

Kalama: Locally, in Warm Springs, Oregon on our radio station 91.9 FM, the station on the reservation, they got Native hip hop hour. And every Friday they play Native hip hop. And one time I was sitting there listening to it and I thought “Whaaaat? No man, I can do better than that.”

Miller: Is that how it started, just thinking if these people are doing it, I can too?”

Kalama: Kinda. But at the same time, I’d been around it. I had friends at studios and I had cousins at studios, and everybody always wanted me to write rhymes and bust a flow. But I was too busy walking down to the basketball court, to the gym. I’d be like “Nah man. But when you guys are done, send me your tapes, I’ll check it out. I’ll let you guys know what you need to work on.”

Miller: A mentor before you’ve done it yourself?

Kalama: Yeah. It was funny because I like music, and everyone knew that I always had a walkman or a CD with me.

Miller: Let’s listen to a recording of one of your songs we’re gonna hear “Rez Life.” Is there anything we should know about this before we hear this excerpt?

Kalama: “Rez Life” was created in Seattle, Washington, Orbit Audio, same place where Macklemore recorded his album. And this is with the nine tribes of Oregon, we brought youth from each nine tribes, and we mentored them to create “Rez Life.” And in this process, we ended up having fun, and in the end of it, we end up winning a Native American Music Award in Seneca, New York for best music video. Check it out on YouTube.

[Kalama raps “Rez Life”]

Miller: What does living on the reservation mean to you right now?

Kalama: Right now it means survival. We’re still surviving on my reservation. We’re still having water issues that we still need to work on. And there’s still alcoholism, there’s still poverty. But we’re surviving, and we’re learning to strive. I’m trying to educate my youth, educate my kids that there’s a way off the reservation, and that’s through education.

Miller: A way off the reservation, I mean, you had a way off, you don’t have to live there, you’ve chosen to live there. Why?

Kalama: Yeah, I chose to live there because of my family. I went off to college and I was away from the reservation for a long time. And one thing I missed the most was my family and that support. And at the same time, the culture, the teachings, the elders, the longhouse, the ways my people live. There’s no other place on earth like it. So that’s what keeps me there.

Miller: I noted that your day job is as a certified prevention specialist. What does that mean?

What do you do day in, day out?

Kalama: As a certified prevention specialist, we specialize in alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention. So we try to catch the youth, they call it “upstream,” before they make it down “downstream” towards the treatment area. That’s where they need the help the most. We’re trying to educate them about the consequences of alcohol and drugs, and hopefully they learn and they learn to say no and continue to grow as a person.

Miller: How’d you end up in that career?


Kalama: I ended up in his career by chance. One day someone told me to apply. They said “you got your degree, why don’t you put it to use?” At the time I was firefighting, and I thought “OK, I’ll try.” It was like 32 people that applied, and I end up making top two. And the first person was like “I don’t want the job.” So they called me and I was like “I’ll take it.” It was in my foot in the door. It’s a good career.

Miller: You talked about upstream and downstream - upstream meaning prevention, downstream people already have substance use issues. My understanding is that you ended up downstream yourself, right?

Kalama: Yeah, ended up downstream. End up developing a drinking habit, alcohol habit in college. It was the norm to go have a beer after class. And when I moved home, it wasn’t normal to have a beer on a Monday night after work. And everybody is like “bro, what are you doing?” I’m like “whatchu talking about?”

And eventually I came to terms with it, and I quit alcohol, and my life changed.

Miller: Let’s listen to another performance if you don’t mind. We’re going to hear “Beam Me Up.” Anything we should know first?

Kalama: Yeah, “Beam Me Up” is about beaming people up from the negative and beaming them to the positive. So it’s about your mindset. Check it out.

[Kalama performs “Beam Me Up”]

Miller: You used to rap as “Scotty Pimpin,” or just the initials “SK.” How did you decide to take on the name “Blue Flamez?”

Kalama: It was just trial and error. One time I was going through issues with myself and my family. My sister ended up being a victim to MMIW.

Miller: Missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Kalama: Yeah. And at the time, there was a lot of rumors going around about who did it, and this and that. And it made me mad, made me angry. And instead of doing something about it and harming someone, my mom told me “We need to pray about it. We need to turn it over to Creator.” So we set up the tepee, and we prayed all night, prayed for answers, prayed for protection, and for a new life, a better life. At the time I was angry, I was mad at the Creator. And I just wanted guidance.

And in that ceremony, my sister spoke to me, and told me she was okay, and told me that she was in a better place. And she told me not to worry. And she told me to not be afraid to sing. In this ceremony, there’s an empty spot next to me. And they say when there’s an empty spot next to you, your loved ones are sitting next to you. So when she spoke to me, I felt her presence, I felt her lean against me. And it just made me happy.

And in that mourning time, the medicine man, the roadman was talking and the fire turned all blue. And as a Native American, we always notice those things, colors and different things represent different things. And I asked him “what does that mean?” And he said “Scott, all these times I’ve been doing these ceremonies, I never seen an all blue fire. So that means your ancestors were in here with you last night. And everything we prayed for last night is gonna come true. Your family is gonna be OK.” And I smiled and I told myself I’m gonna call myself Blue Flamez.

So that’s what it means to me. It means the truth, means family, means love. It’s the opposite of what I was thinking. I was thinking violence. But the creator showed me a different way. And with that, he told me “Scott, pray for a positive mindset, a good heart. Speak good about your future. It’s gonna be that way for you.” And after that day, that’s what I’ve done. My life changed overnight.

Miller: I’m reminded of some of the language in the first song we heard, “To The Sky,” where you basically say that there’s a lot of negativity, but we have to keep it positive. Has that been hard, to stick with a positive message given everything you’ve experienced and everything you see still?

Kalama: Yeah, it’s really hard. At first people were making fun of me.

Miller: What they were saying?

Kalama: “Bro, you’re a rapper, you’re supposed to talk about money, cars, and clothes and fast women.” And I’m like “well, that’s been done before.” I’m trying to do something different, and I’m trying to have a message and hopefully spark the next mindset so they can change themselves, they can create a better life for themselves.

Miller: Do you find that the kids you’re working with want to hear positive messages right now? I’m wondering about the connection between your rap, your lyrics, and the drug and alcohol counseling that you do.

Kalama: It’s a double-edged sword. I got kids coming up to me and telling me “I listen to you all the time.” And I got some kids that don’t even know who I am.

Miller: Meaning, they know you just as a peer counselor, as a prevention specialist, as opposed to somebody who goes around the country and makes music?

Kalama: Yeah. I hardly ever talk about it because my grandma told me “don’t talk about it, be about it.” I hardly ever self promote. So me being here is a pretty big deal for me, you know?

Miller: Well, let’s get to the $150,000 two year fellowship you just got. Part of that is about expanding your music and expanding your promotion. First of all, how did you hear that you won the award? What was that moment like?

Kalama: Oh man, it’s funny. It was a Friday, and it was probably in November. I was not trying to get my hopes up, because in the past I applied for different grants and I had different opportunities and I thought “This is gonna be my big break. I’m gonna make it.” And it didn’t happen, and I kinda had to put my brakes and humble myself again.

And so when I seen the phone call with the number, I was like, “No! Last time they didn’t call me!”

Miller: It seemed like a good thing that you were getting a call?

Kalama: Yeah, someone always told me if you’re getting a phone call, that’s a good thing.

So I made sure I left the office, I went outside where it was peaceful. As soon as I opened the front door to go outside, I seen the sunlight, it was sun shining down, and I was like “whoa, this is like a movie.” And he’s like “Scott, I just wanted to tell you he got chosen for the top finalist.” I’m like “No way.” He’s like “Scott, how do you feel about that?” I’m like “Honestly, I wanna cry, tears of joy. But I’m trying to hold it together. This is a good phone call, good news, I love it. So thank you for the opportunity.” And he’s like “You got any questions?” I was like “No.” I just wanted to hang up the phone and just wanted to jump for joy.

Miller: What do you hope to do over the next two years?

Kalama: I’m hoping to gain some exposure and to get a new audience. People want to hear a positive message, and I believe it’s needed. There’s that balance in this world, so I’m trying to bring that balance on the positive side. I’m on this side, I chose my side. That’s the good side.

I’m hoping I can create more music, build a bigger audience, and go on a Northwest tour, and be able to fund some merchandise with that tour, and be able to pay some local artists and regional artists to open up and to perform, give some artists a chance to be on a big stage. I’m hoping to do a show in Warm Springs, Oregon, on my reservation, to bring local support to my local peers there that do music as well. And in the Northwest area, I wanna work with certain artists. I’m hoping to use this funding to get some features from some artists locally, and to get some national features as well.

Miller: Let’s listen to part of one more song. It’s called “Warrior,” and then we can talk about it.

[Kalama raps “Warrior”]

Miller: I wanted to hear this because we were talking about positivity, but you also call yourself a warrior. What’s the connection there?

Kalama: Native Americans, we’re warriors. We say “soldiers are made, warriors are born.” As Native Americans, we believe we’re all warriors, even though we was beaten down in history, the assimilation and the genocide, we still stand tall and represent for our people. Who’s gonna protect us but ourselves?

Miller: Scott, congratulations. Thanks very much.

Kalama: Thank you for having me, Dave.

Miller: Scott Kalama is a hip hop artist who performs under the name “Blue Flamez.” He’s one of the recipients of this year’s two-year Fields Artist Fellowship.

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