The band were one of the most prominent components in the London-based funk/acid jazz movement in the 1990s; since then, subsequent albums have explored other musical directions such as pop, rock, disco and electronica. Their best-known track, particularly for its music video, is "Virtual Insanity", which won four MTV Video Music Awards and a Grammy. Front-man Kay won a BMI Presidents Award, "in recognition of his profound influence on songwriting within the music industry;" and with the band, also won an Ivor Novello Award for " Outstanding Song Collection", as well as 13 Brit Award nominations during the course of their career. Jamiroquai has sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, with their 1996 album Travelling Without Moving entering the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history.
Singer-songwriter Jason "Jay" Kay formed Jamiroquai after he was rejected from an audition to become a singer of the Brand New Heavies. The band's name is an interlock of the words, "jam" and "iroquai", the latter is based on the Iroquois, a Native American tribe. Being the front-man, Kay is occasionally referred to as 'Jamiroquai', due to misconception that the band is a solo artist.
Kay's home demos were noticed by Acid Jazz Records, and under that label, Jamiroquai's first single "When You Gonna Learn", was released in 1992. Following its success, Kay signed an eight-album record deal with Sony Music Entertainment. The band's first studio album, Emergency on Planet Earth, was released in 1993 and reached the UK albums chart at no. 1. With the album, they "turn out gritty organic grooves with enthusiasm," in the opinion of Marisa Fox of Entertainment Weekly, with BBC Music additionally saying that it was a "funk mezze of trumpets, saxophones, didgeridoos and flutes..." Another single from the album titled, "Too Young to Die" entered the UK singles chart at no. 10.
It was followed by The Return of the Space Cowboy, released in 1994. Rolling Stone commented that "Jamiroquai parlay jazzy soul pop so tight it crackles... when most funk comes out of cans, live spark glows." John Bush of AllMusic would also say that they "refused to be known as simply a party band; the group takes on social issues such as homelessness and Native Americans' rights." Its single "Space Cowboy" entered no.1 in the US Dance Chart. At this point, the band were composed of their best-known lineup; Kay, co-songwriter and keyboardist Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, drummer Derrick McKenzie, and vibraphonist Wallis Buchanan.
With Jamiroquai growing in popularity in Europe and Japan, their American breakthrough came with the 1996 album, Travelling Without Moving. It peaked at no. 24 in the US Billboard 200, and no. 2 in the UK albums chart; it entered the Guinness World Records as the best-selling funk album in history. A review from Q magazine stated that the album is "tighter and more compact in its production than The Return of the Space Cowboy;" while music journalist Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented that it "doesn't have the uniform consistency of its predecessor. fusions sound more fully realized with each outing..." Two big selling singles from the album were released: "Virtual Insanity" and "Cosmic Girl". The latter single is a disco song; which became an apparent theme to their later work. The success of "Virtual Insanity" was due in part to its music video which won a MTV Video Music Award for video of the year. The song also reached no. 1 in Italy.