The so-called Day of Outrage, organized by Sharpton's National Action Network, included protests Tuesday in New York; Los Angeles; Detroit; Chicago; Houston; Richmond, Va.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and other cities.
Sharpton, who led a demonstration at the Motown Museum in Detroit, said, "I'm here in Motown in Detroit as a symbol of when music was not denigrating and was entertaining."
He announced an initiative in April to combat the use of gutter terms in rap music.
Sharpton called Tuesday for the withdrawal of public funds from entertainment companies that "won't clean up their act."
Some people in the music industry have defended rappers' free-speech rights but say the degrading words at the center of the debate should be treated the same as extreme profanities and consistently blanked out of clean and radio versions of songs.