Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails. The quintessential example of a “band” growing out of the songwriting, imagination and overflowing hard drives of one person, Nine Inch Nails has always been the product of its founding frontman.
At least until somewhat recently, when longtime collaborator Atticus Ross became a full-time creative partner alongside Reznor. The live lineup changes—which we recently got a reminder of when Reznor reunited with his former touring bandmates from the Broken and Pretty Hate Machine era in Cleveland. But for more than 30 years, Trent’s been the one constant in the band.
Peruse the credits of Nine Inch Nails’ studio albums, however, and you’ll discover some interesting guest appearances. On The Downward Spiral, for instance, King Crimson’s Adrian Belew adds guitar textures, while 2005’s With Teeth included drums recorded by Dave Grohl. But 1999’s epic double album The Fragile features a name you probably wouldn’t expect to see on a Nine Inch Nails record: Dr. Dre.
Yes, that Dr. Dre. Former member of N.W.A., multi-platinum rapper behind The Chronic, and producer of hits by Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and more. But he’s not a collaborator on the record in the most obvious or conspicuous sense. He doesn’t contribute a guest rap or lend his beats to the sprawling industrial rock album. It’s actually a lot more technical and less glamorous than that: He helped produce and mix “Even Deeper,” the 8th track on The Fragile.
As a fellow producer and studio wizard, himself, Reznor invited Dre to work with him in part because he was interested in seeing his own process, which turned out to be a lot different than how he does things.
“He worked on the mix of one of the tracks for the record,” Reznor said in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone. “I got to see how he works, and it seemed very different – far less knobs,” he notes, laughing. “I think meeting him halfway would be interesting. He’s never seen recording the way we do it, which can get unnecessarily complicated. ‘This song has four hard drives and tape backup’ – all that bullshit. I’m interested in downscaling, being a little more efficient.”
That wasn’t the first time that the two artists crossed paths. In fact, Nine Inch Nails and Dr. Dre have an interesting, if only occasionally eventful history. In 1994, Reznor produced the soundtrack for Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, which featured Dr. Dre’s “The Day the N*ggaz Took Over” (though ironically not “Natural Born Killaz”).
The two artists also worked together for a Beats Music/Apple Music partnership in 2013. And in 2016, Reznor was interviewed in The Defiant Ones, the docuseries about Dr. Dre’s life and career.
But “Even Deeper,” to date, remains the only Dr. Dre appearance on a Nine Inch Nails album—one that happens behind the scenes. Though it’s far from the only time Reznor’s worked with a hip-hop artist, having remixed Puff Daddy, added backing vocals to El-P’s “Flyentology,” and most famously a sample on Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which ended up in its roundabout manner giving Nine Inch Nails their first-ever number one song.