Peter Cottontale Credit: Courtesy the Artist

A lot of theories about how Chicago hip-hop was supposed to operate have been shattered by the events of the past decade—the idea that only one local rapper in a generation could make it big, for instance, or the insistence that the city had a singular sound. While drill became the dominant underground wave, proving that young Chicago rappers and producers with few means or connections could build their own cottage industry outside the mainstream, a panoply of other artists showed how many dimensions the scene actually has: the Era devised “footworking with words,” DLow brought bopping’s euphoric sound to the Billboard Hot 100, and Supa Bwe mined the melodic aggression of screamo years before “Soundcloud rap” broke. At the same time, a loose web of producers laid the groundwork for a style that’s become emblematic of the city’s “alternative hip-hop” community. Most notable among them is Peter Wilkins, better known as Peter Cottontale, whose nuanced blend of neosoul, gospel, R&B, and post-College Dropout hip-hop has enriched some of the best material from local breakout acts such as Jamila Woods, Vic Mensa, and Chance the Rapper. These days Wilkins is best known as bandleader of the Social Experiment, which formed to tour behind Chance the Rapper on Acid Rap in 2013, and he’s played such an important role in every Chance release since then that Chance brought him onstage at the 2017 Grammys for two of his three awards. For Wilkins’s debut album, Catch, he tapped into their growing network of friends and collaborators, including rapper Tobi Lou, R&B star Jeremih, and inimitable gospel star Kirk Franklin. (Catch also contains one of the first appearances by Towkio since the Chicago rapper was publicly accused of sexual assault in January 2019.) Wilkins recently told the Tribune that Catch is bathed in gospel’s uplifting spirit but doesn’t follow genre traditions, and that’s a fair self-assessment: he imbues his songs with R&B tenderness, pop moodiness, and a hint of neosoul sensuality to create atmospheres that feel divine.   v