Around early 1997, still riding high off of the success of ...And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid decided to immediately enter the studio following the ...And Out Come the Wolves tour to record the next album. The recording of Life Won't Wait took place not just in the United States (from San Francisco to Los Angeles, New York City, New Orleans), but also in Jamaica. Two of the songs were recorded in Kingston: "Hoover Street" and the title track, "Life Won't Wait". With the cooperation of numerous Jamaican reggae artists (such as Buju Banton) is very distinctive on this album, not just in the vocals, but also in instrumental parts, which all makes Life Won't Wait very different from most of the other Rancid releases.
During the writing process the band had recorded over 50 songs, many still unreleased. Some of the released non-album tracks ended up on singles, compilations, and the B Sides and C Sides collections. The song Emelia was co-written by Vic Ruggiero and recorded during these sessions. The song was later re-written and featured on Vic's first solo album in 2001. The cover photo pays homage to John Lennon's 'Rock 'n' roll' and Neil Young's 'After the goldrush' cover designs.
Life Won't Wait was released on June 30, 1998, and was the final Rancid album to be released through Epitaph Records. After its release, the band moved to frontman Tim Armstrong's label (a sub-label of Epitaph), Hellcat Records, who released their next album, 2000's Rancid. Although not as successful as ...And Out Come the Wolves, the album peaked at number 35 on the Billboard 200 album chart, making it one of Rancid's highest ranking albums.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic described the album as having a ska influence. He praised the music as a "powerful slice of old-school punk — as powerful as any of their records" and claims "it actually sounds a lot like ...And Out Come the Wolves". The album received a rating of four out of five stars.