By David Browne
Updated June 04, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Electronica may be forward thinking in music and philosophy, but there’s nothing liberal minded about its boys’-club environment; the genre is still very much the ultraexclusive Elks Lodge of the pop community. Charissa Saverio, who’s been working under the unfortunate moniker DJ Rap for nearly a decade in the U.K., may be the first to change that situation. A DJ, label head, and performer in her own right, Rap is a rarity — a female techno act, with manicured nails to boot.

That resume would be meaningless if Rap’s music were slack. But Learning Curve, her American debut, proves she can go break beat for break beat with most of her guy peers. Working with the occasional male collaborator, Rap constructs multilayered jungle tracks as dark and gritty as an after-hours club, on tracks like ”F**k With Your Head” and the brooding bedtime romp ”Bad Behaviour.”

Rap occasionally cranks out the same routine, Godzilla-thud drum-and-bass one associates with trendy clothing stores — techno as new-generation Muzak. But a good deal of Learning Curve is ambitious in the best way, a sort of underground companion to Madonna’s Ray of Light. Unlike Ray of Light, which added electronic tinsel to pop songs, DJ Rap sneaks radiant hooks into drum-and-bass beats. The squirmy nature of those rhythms makes Rap’s concept a tricky one to pull off, but when the fusion works, the results are intoxicating. ”You Get Around” and ”Bad Girl,” Rap’s odes to female self-worth, are set to blissed-out choruses and jungle soundscapes; ”Live It for Today” does the same with semi-spiritual musings. The highlight is ”Good to Be Alive” (heard on the Go soundtrack), pure electronic-pop rapture down to its refrain of ”I feel no shame when I’m high.” She may never be a funk-soul sister with a name like DJ Rap, but Learning Curve makes you want to praise her like you should. B